(Originally published March 2, 2013 on Examiner.com).
Each of Chef Wesley Avila’s tacos reflects the Guerrilla Tacos concept the same way. Wes doesn’t have any borders. He also doesn’t want to be type cast as “the guy that does stewed meats” or the “guy that does Chinese tacos”. Chef Avila wants to do his own thing. Avila believes chefs limit themselves by saying their concept is one thing or another. Thus Avila just wants to do what he believes tastes good. Guerrilla means unconventional (warfare) so the things Chef Avila does are somewhat unexpected for tacos. People new to the cart or just walking by will try and order carne asada thinking he’s a regular street vendor. Those things are great but that’s not what Chef Avila wants to do. The tortilla is more of a vessel for a plated dish. A person could eat each taco without the tortilla as a plated and thought out dish.
Cooking vegetables was the backbone of the last restaurant Chef Avila was at. There he learned a lot of different ways to treat vegetables like you would a protein. For this dish Chef Avila decided to treat cauliflower like a piece of fish. The cauliflower was sourced at the Altadena Farmer’s Market. Avila decided to pair that with chestnuts because they’re in season and they reminded him of dish he tasted when he was in Paris that paired these two items very well. He put burnt tomato chili on the cauli flower and chestnuts because this chili would pair well with a nice piece of Halibut. The tomatoes in that chili are shared on top of the BBQ to give it a really deep smoky flavor.
Recently Chef Avila discovered a new farm, Cook Pig Ranch in Julian, CA. They have by far the best pork he’s ever tasted so now it’s impossible to use any other pork. As long as Wes can, he will use this pork every time he has pork on his menu.
When Chef Avila does pork belly, the belly is braised for about 8 hours in wine and aromatic vegetables. He then cools it, cuts it, and sears it with butter, thyme, salt, and pepper.
The inspiration behind the octopus dish stems from a love of seafood. Chef Avila has loved seafood since he was a kid. On Sundays his family would go out for breakfast and his dad would take him to Siete Mares in Commerce while his brother, sister, and mom would eat King Taco. Wes’s dad would love it when Wes ordered more adventurous food. His dad encouraged it and let me order whatever I wanted. I think this bonding with my dad along with really good seafood really made me appreciate and love flavors like this.
Wes braises the octopus. He found that it was a great traditional French style preparation with wine and aromatics. After it’s cooked the chef takes it out and warms it with butter and a spice mix that he made.
The inspiration for this taco is the family parties he experienced growing up as a young boy. Chef Avila’s always had mole but it was never homemade, it was Dona Maria jarred mole. His mom’s side of the family is 3rd generation Mexican-American so her style of cooking was much more Tex-Mex than traditional Mexican. It wasn’t until Avila was nearly eleven years old when he first visited his dad’s side of the family in Mendosa, Durango Mexico. This was when he first had chicken with anjonjolli. At that time though Avila didn’t know that’s what this chicken dish was called. The chicken anjonjolli was prepared by Wes’s nana Maria who is the matriarch of the town – the oldest lady in the village and everyone calls her “tia”. Anjonjolli is a kind of a mole with no chocolate and a lot of sesame seeds. The chicken is Napa Valley Smart Chicken. For this taco dish the preparation is much simpler. The taco dish is basically just showcasing the stewed chicken with the sesame sauce garnished with a little sprinkle of sesame seeds. This item is a stand alone dish.