How This Mexican Chef Is Changing Perceptions With Food


(guitar music) – [Silvana] Mexican
food is one of the most appropriated foods in the United States. Number one Mexican restaurant
in the United States is what? Taco Bell? What’s wrong with that picture? For almost 18 years I’ve
been changing perceptions of Mexican food. People walk in, they want chips and salsa. I don’t give them chips and salsa, sorry. However, you’re not gonna be
uncomfortable with my food; I promise you that, bud. Come on in. – [Narrator] There are those
who wake up every morning to fight for a better world. They’re not celebrities or politicians. They’re regular people. They are The Brave. (funky drum music) – [Silvana] In Mexico you have your church in your plaza and then the mercado. My mercado is right down the street. My name’s Silvana Salcido Esparza, I’m chef/owner of Barrio Café, and Barrio Café Gran Reserva. We are finishing up our 17th year and going into our 18th year. And restaurant years is like
dog years-that’s an eternity. I’ve gotten coast to coast
coverage from the media- got inducted to the Culinary Hall of Fame. What I brought was different. It’s one of those dishes
that predates the conquest; it’s a decolonized food. Mexican food near normal
American’s perception should be combination plate for 8.99, and probably includes a $1.50 margarita. But Barrio Café is a
trailblazing restaurant. We’re not about the yellow
cheese and Chimichanga; that’s not the kind of food that I, as a chef, choose to execute. We create with cultural pride. I grew up the only Mexican family in an all white country school. So I was a cultural attaché if you will. My food is influenced
by the artisanal cooks, the traditional cooks of Mexico. Women who have been warriors and carrying our food from generation to generation. I use them as an influence
for the food I do. They feed it to the pigs in
Iowa; they call it corn smut. In Mexico we use it as a delicacy. It is in par with a
truffle-a European truffle. Mexican food is always an evolution and the closest you get to
its source, the better it is. (lighthearted guitar music) – The Barrio Café is a magical place; it has a life of its own. A lot of people in the
kitchen have been there since the start of the restaurant. Representation matters. As a young woman I was looking for other Mexican chefs; I couldn’t find any. We’re women owned, nine our of 10 times it’s
women who are cooking your food and that includes the line. People who are in there
are in a safe place- no profanity, not vulgar,
no sexual harassment. – She’s a mentor for me just seeing that she’s Mexican
as well and a female. – Little places like
this are an inspiration. – [Silvana] My kitchens have
always been very diverse. We are a motley crew; queer or not queer. We all embrace each other
and love each other; we know each other’s husbands and wives and partners and not partners. We’re cooking for people
who are cooking with love. And that has to be part
of the ingredients: to always be in the kitchen with love. – The Barrio Café has survived just about the brink of economic collapse. It has survived ugly laws. State Bill 1070 was a large bill that carried many things, but in it was proof of citizenship. If I was stopped I would have to show and demonstrate my proof of
citizenship, automatically. And if the police didn’t ask me for that, then they would be fined. It was a very targeted bill.
I thought it was racist. I thought it was hateful, and it would alienate a culture; and we were being picked on. I’ve learned that you cannot
fight those hateful bills with hate and retaliation. You have to stand up with love, and for me, it meant taking
action in my own neighborhood. (upbeat music) I wanted to create a destination, a source of pride for Phoenix in terms of our culture. This is legendary. So I called it Calle 16, and I kept calling it Calle 16. Eventually, Calle 16 became a thing. And much like the Barrio,
it took up its own identity. We started doing paint festivals, and the lowrider events and being part of everything in the community. And it’s evolved. So that afforded us a voice. And there’s not a negative mural in this neighborhood at all; they’re all positive and
ascending, as they should be. So now this has become
a tourist destination. It’s busy in that alley and
it’s not just for my restaurant. The food, it has been the catalyst, the driving force, the
everything that happens. Whether it’s politics
or community service, there’s always food involved. If we’re doing a lowrider
event, there’s food involved. If we’re getting together
just to socialize, there’s food involved. As a community every time there is something that happens
whether it’s good or bad, we always bring our food. My goal is to make every single customer change their mind with the proof. ‘Cause when you’re feeding the truth and not the fake and the lie, you’re preaching the
gospel of Mexican cuisine. – Thank you. – I don’t measure my success by money. I measure my success by how
many people I can reach, how many people I can touch, how many erroneous
perceptions I can change, how many haters can turn into love. That’s how I measure my success. (guitar music)

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