John Muir Middle School teacher publishes book ‘L.A. Mexicano, Recipes, People and Places’

on Jul12

There are times when Bill Esparza wants to write about brunch, but he knows he can’t because if he doesn’t feature food by Latino chefs, nobody else will.

When there are Mexican chefs representing their own cuisine and hosting their own television shows, Esparza said, that’ll be when he writes about other food.

Until then, the John Muir Middle School special-education teacher will continue to spread his wealth of knowledge about the thriving Mexican cuisine in Los Angeles through his blog Street Gourmet LA and Los Angeles Magazine.

The Hollywood resident’s latest venture includes his first published book, “L.A. Mexicano, Recipes, People and Places,” which features chefs, restaurants and recipes for breakfast plates, tacos, ceviche and cocktails.

He describes his book as “a focused sequel” to Gustavo Arellano’s “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.” Arellano, an author and editor-in-chief of the Orange County Weekly Magazine, contributed the forward for Esparza’s book, which discusses four styles of Mexican cuisine in Los Angeles: street food, regional Mexican, Mexican American and Alta California.

Stories include why the restaurant Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks was revolutionary when it described its food as Mexican and not Spanish. He also shares the history behind why dishes are served with rice and beans.

“L.A. has a strong and long history with Mexican-American people,” Esparza said. “In non-Latin neighborhoods, you couldn’t have a Latino restaurant. They’d call themselves Spanish cuisine. When El Cholo and El Coyote [Cafe] first opened, it was called Spanish cuisine even though it was Mexican cuisine.”

His journey in being considered as one of the country’s leading experts on Mexican food began when he connected with his family in Aguascalientes, Mexico, after his father’s death. His father, who faced racism while living in Texas, forbade Esparza from learning or speaking Spanish.

The goal was to assimilate — but Esparza was worried he wouldn’t have a connection with his family.

“I was sitting on top of a pyramid [in Mexico], reflecting and realizing I’d been missing out on a big part of who I am,” he said.

Since his moment of realization on top of a pyramid at Teotihuacan, he began visiting Mexico much more often. He tried new foods, learned from local chefs and began his own blog on cultural cuisine.

Huevos Rancheros, as featured in Bill Esparza's new book, "L.A. Mexicano, Recipes, People and Places

Raul Roa / Burbank Leader

Huevos Rancheros, as featured in Bill Esparza’s new book, “L.A. Mexicano, Recipes, People and Places”

Huevos Rancheros, as featured in Bill Esparza’s new book, “L.A. Mexicano, Recipes, People and Places” (Raul Roa / Burbank Leader)

By 2008, though, he realized he needed to focus solely on Latin-American cuisine. He’s learned Spanish and Portuguese and has visited every state in Mexico.

“I decided this was just the way to go — I felt like there was a future in this,” he said. “Today, I feel, along with Gustavo, that there isn’t really anybody else that has any knowledge of the cuisine that has a national voice.”

It’s become his mission to spread the word, he said, and “L.A. Mexicano” comes at a time when young chefs are pushing the envelope.

“We’re at the beginning of what I feel Latin-American and Asian cuisine will take the place of what French and Italian food once held,” he said. “This book is right here when all of this is happening — reading “L.A. Mexicano” is like saying you were there when all of this was happening.”

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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