The Cooks

The food stories
gathered here share a recurring theme: food has the power to build bridges between individuals, communities, histories, and cultures. These stories also show how people are mapping their home on a plate and sharing it with their hopes for the future.

Luz Maria AguirreLuz María Aguirre recalls how food is often used as a source of income to help sustain a family. At the age of 12, Luz María, her two younger brothers and their grandfather began making and selling Burros (burritos) in Juárez. She captures her childhood by saying that she was raised with tortillas and tamales—not by consuming them but by making and selling them. This knowledge marks her home cooking as she is quite at ease fixing meals for large family gatherings. Experience, careful observation when others cook and the Internet are the sources that inform her culinary repertoire of traditional Mexican food (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Araceli Borunda The CooksAraceli Borunda has been passionate about food all of her life, in particular she has had an affinity for mercados—a word in Spanish that includes farmer’s markets and more. For her, entering a mercado of any village, town or city anywhere in the world, one can smell, see, and taste the flavors of a culture. In mercados one can feel the spirit of a place and its people. With her coffee truck, Calvi, she forms part of this spirit (Learn more in Public Kitchens).


Wayne Calk The CooksWayne Calk for over 30 years has cooked from two Chuck Wagons he outfitted. Keeping the “romance” and “heritage” of the cattle drive culture alive so that future generations don’t forget this part of United State history is what motivates Wayne to take out the wagon, set up the campfire and cook with Dutch ovens. Historical authenticity from the wagon, to cooking utensils and cooking methods, to the clothes the cooks wear and of course the food matter.  What Wayne mostly speaks about, however, is the life-long friendships that the chuck wagon crew forms (Learn more in Public Kitchens).

Paul Contreras SopapillasPaul Contreras
shares why he began cooking and why in the last few years his own diet has changed. A desire to introduce foods his parents cooked for him is what motived Paul to cook for his youngest son, Solomon. Through the flavors, smells, and textures of biscuits, sopaipillas, tortillas, frijoles, enchiladas, and chicken ‘n dumplings, Paul hopes to acquaint his son with grandparents he never knew. After suffering a heart attack, Paul has significantly changed his diet but still cooks sopaipillas and other meals that only his family eats as he no longer can. His story invites us to think how our bodies lead us to reflect on the complicated emotions attached to culturally specific diets (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Lucy Fischer West The cooksLucy Fischer-West reflects on the role a person’s hands play when cooking; it’s through the hands that emotions are added to food, giving it a flavor that forever stays in our palate. As she remembers her mother’s food, she recognizes that the unique taste of her “thrown-together meals … emanated from her hands in the same way [her] grandmother’s meals and her grandmother’s before hers did.” Lucy’s hands carry knowledge, emotions, and memories that are relived every time she prepares a meal once cooked by those who have loved her and whom she has loved through the years (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Raul Gonzalez Chef and restaurant owner Raul Gonzalez claims that where we eat matters less than who makes the food. As a young man, he experienced no difference between eating in Quito, Ecuador or El Paso, Texas, because his mother’s hands prepared and served the food. Despite the change in available ingredients, the flavors of home continued to be defined by his mother. Raul’s story shows us how a person’s sazón can define and anchor our identities to food (Learn more in Public Kitchens).


Parul eating fruitParul Haribhai, a physical therapist and self-proclaimed foodie, reflects on her evolving relationship with food from being a “very picky eater who didn’t much care for food” to loving to cook. She wonders if we have genetic traits that reveal themselves at different stages of our lives, and if we do, she inherited her cooking “genes” from her aunts and uncles. Since embarking in a culinary path, Parul now experiences cooking as a therapeutic and meditative practice that gets her “in her zone.” She understands food as embodying history and culture and teaches these lessons to her children by showing them how to lead a healthy life based on being mindful as to where food comes from (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Jake Jacobs Sweet Potato PieJake Jacobs first came to El Paso, Texas in 1972 from Philadelphia to attend the University of Texas at El Paso. A track scholarship gave him the opportunity to be part of the university’s world renown track team whose athletes participated in the Olympics. A platter of his grandmother’s shrimp played a significant role in his coming to El Paso. The people and food of El Paso, he says, changed his “metabolism.” He describes the changing foodscape of El Paso by remembering that in the 1970s, he ate his first authentic tacos in Juárez, his first chicken fried steak—a name that made no sense to him—in the cafeteria at UTEP, and fed his love for shrimp at The Big Fisherman’s restaurant. Soul food he found at Bill Parks Barbeque (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Yolanda Leyva Nopales al vaporProfessor of public history, Yolanda Leyva, for example, who grew up when processed foods, particularly TV Dinners, had the national seal of approval as the most nutritious, speaks of the value of reconnecting with her indigenous ancestral foods. This is a journey she shares with her grandchildren by teaching them with “attention and intention” that certain foods help reclaim ancestral diets (Learn more in Private Kitchens).


Antonio Lopez 1A relationship with nature is what makes Antonio Lopez a cocinero (cook). He reflects upon this, claiming he became a cook only after developing a relationship with fire. For him, cooking is about fire, water, air, and earth. He underscores that the most important element in cooking is time – as in the time given to the process of cooking and time shared with those we eat with. Cooking is a gift of time (Learn more in Public Kitchens).


Puga and students Culinary Arts teacher Christopher Puga reminds us that food is about touch. In his story, he tells us how, while working for a baker, his employer often did not appreciate his personal touch and creativity. However, Puga shows us that when we add our touch to something, we participate in molding the future. This translates in his present work at Bowie High School where, as he says, he no longer just shapes food but helps influence the lives of the youth he works with (Learn more in Public Kitchens).


Roman Wilcox The CooksChef Roman Wilcox, who owns an all plant-based restaurant and grows many of the vegetables, fruits and herbs in a community-based garden that he helps maintain, says that cooking is not about food. The philosophy by which he runs his restaurant is based on his responsibility to the environment and the community. His plant-based menus are his response to mass produced foods that have unhealthy consequences for the earth and everything living on it. His policy of “paying it forward” expresses his sense of responsibility that no one should be denied a tasty and healthy meal for lack of economic resources (Lean more in Public Kitchens).


Machelle WoodMachelle Wood, museum program specialist, defines food as home. In her story of change and search for the authentic, food and the emotions it evokes always seem to root her back to what she defines as home. In addition, Wood is proud to offer cooking classes at the Magoffin Home museum. Participants cook from the first cookbook published about cooking experiences in El Paso. For Wood, food powerfully communicates the humanity of those who lived in the past, and through the senses this past is felt vividly in the present (Learn more in Public Kitchens).






Meredith E. Abarca, Ph.D
Creator, Editor, Curator of EPFV
Professor of Food Studies and Literature
Department of English
The University of Texas at El Paso

 Humanities Collaborative 

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