Excerpted from Sweet July Magazine. To read the full story, get the Fall/Winter 2021 Issue here!
Known for her delicious tacos and flavorful salsas, this chef celebrates her upbringing in Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona at Boca Tacos y Tequila, her restaurant in Tucson. Most recently, she was able to showcase her culture through food on Top Chef: Portland.
What inspired you to open a restaurant?
I was born in Tucson and raised in Sonora. The inspiration was simple: I just wanted a true Mexican taco. In Sonora, where my family is from, we are known for our cattle and we have beautiful beef. I wanted to show that Mexico has a lot to offer. The business card of any Mexican is a taco—if you go anywhere in Mexico, that will take you to fancy tacos that have Kobe beef or a stand on the side of the road. I wanted to find the middle ground.
What makes an authentic taco?
It’s all about good product. You can put anything in it—even eggs and cheese. You just need a great tortilla, quality cheese, and to make it with passion. You have to cook from your heart. To be a good cook, you have to be representative. If you’re angry, cook something spicy. If it’s rainy outside and you’re gloomy, make a nice soup.
Growing up, did your family eat a lot of Sonoran food?
Yes. It’s funny because people will assume I grew up eating rice and beans because I’m Mexican. In Mexico, we eat heavy lunches, so I have a memory of us all sitting down as a family, saying our prayers, and then we ate.
What did Top Chef mean to you?
I was scared! My journey started out differently than many chefs. I earned my stripes in the kitchen. I believe the United States gets represented by the coasts and Mexico gets represented by places in the south like Puebla and Guadalajara. I represent Arizona and Sonora, which have tremendous things to offer. To have Tom Colicchio recognize them as culinary places—wow. My hope is that I’m giving younger generations reasons to dream. Top Chef is massive—the hope is that it reaches a young girl in Sonora and makes her think, “If she can do it, I can do it.”
Interview by Bethany Heitman; Photography by Shannon Christine