The tamale making demo
will be presented by local tamale chefs, well-established in the art of
Date: Saturday & Sunday, November 5th and 6th, 2011
Time:1:00 p.m.- 2:30 p.m.
Location: on Stage
At the 1st Los Angeles International
Tamale Festival, tamale making classes were instructed by chefs Jaime Martin
del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of La Casita Mexicana - Bell, CA
Chef Jaime Martin del Campo
and Ramiro Arvizu
Bell never had such a fashionable,
ambitious restaurant before. As chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro
Arvizu handcrafted their tiny storefront on Gage Avenue, anticipation built.
They painted the walls brilliant orange and blue. They laid Spanish tiles
and applied stained-glass windows, creating the façade of a little
house, a casita. All along, intrigued locals would stop by and say, “When
are you guys going to open?” Down to their last $20, not enough money to
advertise, Jaime blanketed the neighborhood with flyers offering 50% off.
When La Casita Mexicana opened at 3 PM on February 5, 1999, there was a
line down the block.
In Los Angeles, a city with
thousands of Mexican restaurants, residents are increasingly driving to
Bell, an obscure Hispanic and Arab community southeast of downtown, to
experience La Casita Mexicana’s authentic, innovative Mexican food. Don’t
expect to find tacos and guacamole, items Jaime says can be found at any
stand in the United States. According to Jaime, “People think Mexicans
eat only tacos and burritos. I never had a burrito until I came to Los
Angeles. This is the real food, what we eat in Mexico.”
Jaime and Ramiro, both Jalisco,
Mexico natives, met while working for airlines with neighboring offices
in Los Angeles. According to Jaime, “I wasn’t happy at the airline. Cooking
was my passion. I was ready for the weekends to come so I could cook.”
In 1998, Garuda Airlines downsized and Jaime was finally free to pursue
his dream of opening a restaurant. He enlisted Ramiro to join him in opening
La Casita Mexicana in Bell, a familiar area where rent was cheap. They
chose the name to represent their home-style, pan-Mexican cuisine and decor.
Everything at La Casita Mexicana
is made from scratch, with many ingredients brought from Mexico. Jaime
and Ramiro grow several herbs and vegetables themselves, in home gardens.
The menu changes according to what’s in season. Jaime sums up their approach:
“Good food takes time to cook…We make each dish one at a time. It’s the
only way to make fresh food.”
Jaime and Ramiro take at
least two trips a year to Mexico to continue to learn about Mexican cooking.
Last November, they traveled to Puebla, “the cradle of mole,” and brought
back a recipe for white mole, a dish reserved for Mexican weddings. In
Mexico, white mole is known as mole de novia, bride’s mole. Poured over
chicken or shredded pork at La Casita Mexicana, the silky sauce blends
pumpkin seeds, peanuts, white chocolate, almonds, pine nuts, and various
chiles. Jaime claims it can’t be found at another restaurant north of the
border. They serve white mole on weekends.
Moles are Mexican sauces
that can blend over 40 ingredients (including several varieties of chiles,
nuts, seeds and sometimes chocolate) and are typically described as “complex.”
Each night at La Casita Mexicana, all six cooks pitch in to make the next
day’s moles in the restaurant’s tiny kitchen. The restaurant offers six
moles: chipotle, green, white, poblano, green pepian and red pepian. Green
mole uses Serrano chiles in season, spicy arbol chiles other times. Pepian
features roasted pumpkin seeds, or pepitas. Moles are so ingrained in La
Casita Mexicana that poblano, red and green pepian all find their way onto
the complimentary basket of tortilla chips that begins each meal.
Other exotic menu offerings
include a squash blossom quesadilla accompanied by a bowl of cream of pumpkin
soup, with more luscious squash blossoms. Thin, crispy smoked pork chops
are fork tender, marinated in ancho chiles, giving the meat a spicy kick.
Cream of chicharrones soup with chipotle is another dish Jaime and Ramiro
discovered in Puebla. For the creamy orange soup, they use very thin chicharrones
(fried pork skin) with no fat. The recipe was devised at Arroyo, a famous
restaurant in Mexico City. To drink, homemade lemonade offers a flourish:
chia seeds. They’re not just for spreading on sheep-shaped pottery anymore.
Jaime and Ramiro occasionally
incorporate their heritage in dishes in more overt fashion. Chile en nogada
is a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with ground meat, dried fruits, walnuts,
and candied cactus, topped with pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
According to Jaime, “Sweet and spicy, this dish was first cooked in 1821,
when the Mexican flag was established; it has the three colors of the Mexican
flag: red, white and green.” Tortillas also come in red, white and green:
guajillo chile, white corn, and nopal (cactus paddle) tortillas. According
to Ramiro, “The guajillo adds flavor and color, but it’s not spicy.”
Desserts include fresh guava
drizzled with eggnog and jericalla, a firm custard quite common on the
streets of Jalisco. To end the meal, café de olla is coffee served
with a plate of cinnamon-dusted brown sugar crystals.
As for the future, Jaime
and Ramiro are currently working on a line of moles for home use. They’ll
begin by selling the sauces at La Casita Mexicana, which Ramiro refers
to as “the trampoline.” If sales go well, they’ll offer the moles in stores.
According to Jaime, “To make moles takes hours and hours.” He thinks home
cooks will appreciate the shortcut. They’re also scouting a second location,
and if possible, plan to open in early 2006.
Jaime and Ramiro view La
Casita Mexicana as a constant source of pleasure and have made a lifetime
commitment to the restaurant. They acknowledge that the cost of producing
such authentic food is “really high,” but they won’t compromise their heritage
to maximize profit. According to Jaime, “There are people who eat to fill
their stomach, and there are people who eat to fill their soul.” La Casita
Mexicana is filling souls.
La Casita Mexicana
4030 E. Gage Ave.
Bell, CA 90201