by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Watch for new taco restaurant downtown
First it was burgers. Then pizza. Now, American chefs are obsessed with tacos. Last year Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos! That’s 490,000 miles of tacos, which could take you to the moon and back or, if you prefer, could, at 775-million pounds, equal the weight of two Empire State Buildings.
A warm, soft tortilla, often a jumble of meat, crumbled queso fresco, crunchy radish slices, tangy pickled onions, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime: many consider tacos the perfect food,
A taco is a delicious dish that is found in households and restaurants all across the world. Tacos make an excellent family meal or party food because they are easy to make, inexpensive, and they can be created with a person’s preferences in mind. Being able to choose your own toppings gives tacos a personalized flavor. Since I am also an educator, besides a former restaurateur, I did some research on taco history.
The exact timeline of the creation of tacos is unknown, but it has been estimated that tacos were first made around the 1500s. The earliest tacos were made with thin slices of meat cooked over coals. The meat was then placed in a corn tortilla and topped with salsa, onions, guacamole and lime. This taco was known as the carne asada taco.
As the taco grew in popularity, different regions throughout Mexico began creating their own personalized versions. For instance, there are De Cabeza, or head tacos, which were made with cow heads, or Carnitas, which were made with small pieces of pork.
The taco made its way to the United States and was first documented in a newspaper in 1905. This led to some changes in the original recipes for tacos. In the mid-1900s, hard shells were invented and made it easier than ever to create tacos. As tacos became a hit worldwide, taco stands and Mexican restaurants featuring tacos on the menu began popping up everywhere. Many casual dining and fast food restaurants began carrying tacos, including the franchise Taco Bell.
Tacos have been modified throughout the years to suit everyone’s tastes. Fish tacos, soft flour tortilla tacos and other variations have made their way to households all across the world. Taco kits are a fast, easy and convenient way to make terrific tacos at home in a hurry. These kits contain salsa, spices for meats and taco shells.
The simplicity of the taco makes it a food that almost anyone can make without spending a fortune. The ability to add delicious meats like chicken, fish, ground beef and steak, as well as toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole and other ingredients, offers endless combinations.
Local chefs James Hamilton and Chip Kennedy believe Springfield needs a new twist on tacos and are opening a new restaurant downtown called Tacology. Carol and I are supporters of downtown restaurants and happy to see this new dining choice.
James is from Springfield, a Sacred Heart-Griffin graduate who went on to the Culinary Institute of America. After his CIA graduation, he moved to Philadelphia to experience Mexican cuisine, and worked at El Vez – part of the Starr Restaurant group – and with Chef Jose Garces. Steven Starr, founder of Starr Restaurants, was among the recent James Beard winners, and James was with them for five years. Latin-American chef Jose Garces rose to prominence in the food world after he opened Amada in 2005. Since then, Garces has changed the face of Philadelphia’s dining scene and, in the process, gained national recognition. To date, he’s opened nine restaurants in Philadelphia and six more across the country. In 2009, he won the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” award. In the same year, Chef Garces competed on and won Food Network’s hit show The Next Iron Chef.
Chef Chip Kennedy, principal owner of Five Flavor Catering, is serving as business partner in this new venture. Both he and James believe that Springfield needs a fresh, modern and authentic Mexican taste. Their tortillas will be homemade corn-style, prepared daily in the restaurant. There will be “bold flavors” and emphasis on fresh and local. Adjectives they used in describing the new restaurant are ”big city, fun, casual, bold and bright.” The restaurant will have seating for approximately 30 and will feature takeout with a pick up window. Ordering will be very simple and you will be able to do so online or by calling. Some details are still being finalized and for now hours are scheduled to be 11-2:30 for lunch, reopening for dinner at 4 and closing late on weekends.
What’s Mexican food without a cold cerveza or marguerita? Tacology will feature craft beers in addition to Mexican favorites. They provided me a first draft of the menu and in addition to their tacos and empanadas, I am looking forward to trying their Yucca fries with chipotle mayo. Tacology will be located at 219 S. Fifth and should be open in the next couple of weeks.
Another reason to dine downtown is a visit to the new Long 9 Junction located at 5 West Old State Capitol Plaza. Chef and owner Corey Faucon, an Athens native who trained at Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute, says the restaurant’s name comes from the nickname of the nine tall lawmakers – Abe Lincoln included – who lobbied to make Springfield the state capital. Corey most recently led the kitchen staff at Augie’s down the street and is excited to follow his dream of owning his own restaurant. Open for lunch and dinner, Corey’s menu is eclectic and what he calls “home simple.”
Ten days ago Rick Bayless received the prestigious James Beard Award for his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo. The Beard Awards are the Oscars for the culinary industry. In contention for top restaurateur was Kevin Boehm, originally of Springfield, and co-founder of the Boka Restaurant Group. Kevin was the original owner of Indigo in Springfield and now co-owns a dozen restaurants in Chicago, the most famous being Girl and the Goat. Bayless is well known for his highly rated Public Television Series, “Mexico–One Plate at a Time,” his numerous cookbooks, and his multiple Chicago restaurants including the casual Frontera Grill, the four-star Topolobampo, casual Xoco, and new quick service at O’Hare-Tortas Frontera. I have included below his “Morning After” taco recipe, followed by James’ guacamole recipe.
Morning After Taco
Servings: 1 each
* 1 tablespoon bacon fat, butter or olive oil
* 1 egg
* 2 or 3pieces sun-dried tomato, finely chopped
* 1 strip bacon, diced
* 1 teaspoon crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese such as feta or goat cheese
* 1-2 teaspoon Mexican hot sauce
* 1/4 avocado, diced
* 3-4 cilantro leaves for garnish
* 1 warm corn tortilla
Set a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the bacon fat (or one of its stand-ins). Crack the egg straight into the pan.
Using a spoon, gently break up the egg yolk. As the egg cooks, sprinkle on the sundried tomatoes, bacon, cheese and hot sauce. Remove from heat and add the avocado and cilantro.
Slide the garnished egg on to a warm tortilla and greet the morning (or afternoon).
James Hamilton Guacamole Recipe
*2 whole avocados, discard peel and seed
*1 medium jalapeño, peeled and seeded, small dice
*1 oz red onion, small dice
*3 oz roma tomato, small dice
*2 oz lime juice
*.5 bunch cilantro
*coarse salt to taste
Peel and seed the avocado. Either mash with a small whip or push through a 1/4” screen. Roast the jalapeño with a torch or on open flame until skin is charred. Put in sealed container until skin begins to steam off. Peel and cut out seeds. Combine avocado mash with all ingredients and do not overmix.
Note: Avocados will turn brown very quickly depending on the season. It is best to prepare guacamole minutes before serving, not hours or overnight.
“Food can make us feel good. It can make us feel comforted, too. Or nostalgic. Or giddy with pleasure and desire. Or even a little uncertain.” Rick Bayless