Food is a vehicle for many things such as sustenance, health, nutrition, pleasure, celebration and more. As a chef, I often think about the connection between food and culture, particularly in the context of my birthplace, Guatemala.
Over a decade ago, I moved from Guatemala to Los Angeles in pursuit of the American dream. Like many immigrants, I hoped for a better life, from career opportunities to overall self-improvement. In my youth, I chased adventure and avoided responsibility, and moving to America was my chance to start over.
Living in a new land with cultures of which I was unaccustomed was a difficult experience. I got a job as a dishwasher at the Shangri-La in Santa Monica, but it seemed like a step in the wrong direction. After all, back in Guatemala, I’d had a good job as an accountant at one of the largest beer companies in Central America. My grandfather had always encouraged me to do the best I could, even in the worst situations. “If your job is sweeping the floor,” he’d say, “then be the best at sweeping the floor.” I kept this in mind as I worked my way through the ranks, from dishwasher to salad station to line cook — and eventually to sous chef here at Munchery.
Naturally, the dishes I create are often inspired by Guatemalan cuisine, which is derived from Spanish and Mayan food. Beans, corn, tomatoes, coffee, spices, onions, chiles and fresh handmade tortillas are a few of the staple ingredients you’ll find in most Guatemalan dishes, and they’re the essential components of my cooking, as well.
One of my favorite creations at Munchery is the Grilled ChorizoBurger because it represents a nice combination of Guatemalan and American cultures. For the patty, I mix Smoky Spanish chorizo and cilantro with ground beef and parmesan, which I grill to medium-rare. Then I top with pepper jack cheese, tomato, and red onion. The burger’s finishing touch is a dollop of secret sauce spiced with aji amarillo, an Incan hot yellow pepper paste.
The result: quintessential American burger meets quintessential Guatemalan flavors, all singing in harmony. It’s not unlike the person I am today.