Silvana Salcido Esparza Explains What Mexican Food Is Not and Discusses the Food Term That Makes Her Skin Crawl
See also: Silvana's Changing It Up Again at Barrio Queen
See also: Chef Salad: Jeff Kraus Explains What's Cool About Food Trucks
Silvana Salcido Esparza
2814 N. 16th Street, Phoenix
Barrio Queen Tequileria, Restaurant and Tiendita
7114 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale
This is part one of my interview with Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef-owner of Barrio Cafe in Phoenix and Barrio Queen in Scottsdale. Come back on Tuesday for part two, when Esparza muses about being a badass and names three places she loves to eat Mexican food.
If you've ever met Silvana (who, like Cher and Madonna, needs no last name), you already know that this fierce, heart-on-the-sleeve-wearing chef and restaurateur embodies the term "larger than life." She's warm, funny, quick to laugh, and even quicker to express an opinion. And she has a lot of them, especially on subjects that really matter to her. Mexican cooking would be one of them.
Growing up in Merced, California, Esparza began working at her family's bakery at the age 6, cleaning corn husks for tamales, stocking the display cases and going on the delivery route with her father. When she was 15, she talked her parents into letting her sell carnitas in the bakery. A year later, she started her own tortilla and bread route, selling to country stores that catered to farm workers. One year into community college, she left California to follow a boyfriend to Miami, where she got into the international banking business. She married, divorced and realized, seven years down the line, that banking wasn't for her, so she moved back to California, this time to Bakersfield, where her parents had relocated their bakery. She opened a little restaurant inside the bakery, later starting her own catering business called Full Moon Gourmet-on-the-Go.
Realizing she needed formal training, Esparza enrolled at SCI but delayed school when her mother fell ill with cancer. Esparza spent the year with her mother, learning family recipes all the while. By the time she was ready for SCI, the school granted her a full scholarship. As an intern, she worked under sous chef Matt Carter at Christopher's Bistro, and after graduation, landed a lucrative (but "shitty") job at Sun Devil Stadium for Super Bowl XXX, where she was the "It Girl" from 1995-2000, meeting countless celebrities and politicians along the way.