October 1, 2022

La Chefita is Mexican street food with a twist

Off the road to restoration

In 1903, Augustine Escoffier published her book The Culinary Guide, a cookbook that brought French cooking techniques not just to Europe but around the world. Today, this book is still printed and used as a guide for culinary schools abroad. When soldiers returned from World War I, many of them found themselves out of work, so many of them took jobs in kitchens, whether industrial or high end. The work was brutal anyway.

The combined forces of Escoffier’s book and the soldiers who occupied the back of the house at the turn of the century helped create the chief, and various military swords and weapons replaced the utilitarian cutlery typically used by women. Women, of course, had been the dominant force in kitchens for generations, using whatever knife they could afford or were given.

Photo by Dayvison de Oliveira Silva/Pexels

Today, men make up nearly 80% of chefs or chefs, and it’s only in the past two decades that cooking has become a ‘glamorous’ career. If you’re not on a cooking TV show or have won multiple awards for your cooking, being a chef is tough. Like really hard. It’s the common thought of why kitchens are usually run by men, which has been belied by the harder work female chefs have to do on a daily basis.

I’ve worked with cooks who get called in sick if they stub their toe before a shift. Some left after being slightly cut or burned. Then you have leaders such as Ana Rivera of the new food truck Chefita who worked for years with a broken back. Take this, she didn’t even know it was broken.

“I just kind of ignored it because I was working too hard to deal with it,” Rivera said.

Ana Rivera from La Chefita

Ana Rivera of La Chefita (Photo courtesy of La Chefita)

Chief Rivera is from Douglas and joined the military at a young age. It was during her service that she discovered her talent and love for cooking as she worked in mess halls across Arizona. That’s also when she broke her back, but, you know, she kind of ignored it because that’s what real tough guys do.

Broken back? I have 300 soldiers to feed! It can wait.

After her military term, Rivera found herself working in the kitchens of federal prisons and became a chef at the age of 25 at the Arizona State Penitentiary Complex in Wilmot. Being a soldier gave him training and insight into what it means to prove himself in a male-dominated field. Standing at 5’1” and sporting a cheerful natural disposition, one can only imagine the daily struggle Rivera had to endure in this difficult environment.

“There were a lot of opinions, a lot of issues with my authority,” Rivera said. “It was tough but I had to think it was their home, I was there for them and I had over 800 mouths to feed three times a day. It took me months to get this kitchen up and running. and it took them a while to accept me for who and what I am.

Ana left prison to work at a veterans hospital and said it was her favorite job because of the slower pace, the service she provided, and the fact that she was respected almost from the start. Unfortunately, this work did not last that long.

She had an accident in the kitchen and the broken back she was carrying let her know it was time to get it fixed. Two back surgeries later, Ana found herself in a period of rest around the time your old COVID arrived on the scene. Being the badass that she is, Rivera used that time to hone her skills as a chef and even received a culinary arts degree from Escoffier. Most likely she has a copy of The Culinary Guide somewhere nearby anytime.

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“One of my favorite street food in LA is from Korea,” Rivera said. “It’s a spiral potato that’s fried and topped with all kinds of goodies. It’s a Korean name for a tornado, but since we don’t have tornadoes here in Tucson, I decided to call them remolinos, since we have dust devil devils.

After finding and fixing an old food truck, she set out to create a menu that was not only interesting and unique, but boiled down to her favorites, both for her and for the rest of us.

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

In June of this year, La Chefita debuted to almost immediate praise for the inventive use of fairly common ingredients. I mean, a twisted russet potato, fried and covered in a heap of meat, cheese, pico and even takis?

Oh but yes!

The swarm of perfectly cooked and seasoned components on his remolinos is divine. The Chefita Remolino is made with very juicy smoked brisket, nacho cheese, shredded cheese, barbecue sauce, and then a dollop of tangy green onions.

Chefita Remolino (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Chefita Remolino (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

It was a dish that I had eaten before but not like this. None of us did. Not yet anyway. If you’re really hungry or maybe you and a pal want to share a thunderous snack that only the badass can stomach, then order one of La Chefita’s remolinos.

Her chipotle BBQ sauce has spice and depth of flavor and I highly recommend getting it on anything she makes in her little trailer.

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Rivera’s burritos and tacos are just as great and delicious. Everything I ate seemed to formulate a plan they were all on and only let us in on the secret of their intent. Although, I think I cracked it knowing it was to make us deliciously full and leave a necessary mess on our faces and hands.

Not into meat mode and just want something tasty and light for lunch?

La Chefita continues the craft of curving their ingredients with a twisted cucumber salad. On a dazzled little truckload of meats, this addition is 100% vegan as it includes said cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, then gets a tajin and chamoy shake. So simple and so refreshing.

Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Twisted Cucumber Salad at La Chefita (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“I was literally in my kitchen and had these ingredients,” Rivera said. “I just tossed them all together and it was one of the best salads I’ve made or had. So, I knew I wanted it on my menu.

Thank you Ana. You do everything so well.

This thick skin’s developmental moments in the military and in prison kitchens have toughened it up enough to soften and let that love of cooking and service shine through in this little snag. His food and tenacity would get any chef, regardless of gender, noticed, especially this man Escoffier.

Rivera’s food may not be French but it definitely is delicious and inventive (delicious and inventive).

Is it hard enough for you? Well, I know Ana is.

To keep up with the latest news and find out where they plan to set up shop, follow La Chefita on Facebook and Instagram.