Hector and Luisa

By BOB ZIMORINO

The Rocky Mountain Front Part 4

Tradition has played a huge part in ethnic cuisine forever. That being said, they only last until something better comes along. Somewhere along the line, after the discovery of fire, “Grog” the caveman, discovered barbecue.  Not in the way we know it, with marinades, sauces, dry and wet rubs, and certain types of woods, producing different flavors from the smoking process.

At some point that raw brontosaurus meat was probably too tough for his various, scattered and wobbly teeth so Grog somehow figured out that throwing it in the fire pit, tenderized it. It was even better after you scraped off the carbon. These days, unless you order a steak “Pittsburgh style”, cooked over a hot flame so that it becomes blackened on the outside and rare in the center, “blackened”, as in coated in seasonings, pan seared and then char- broiled to taste, or you frequent a restaurant owned by one of Grog’s bloodline where they burn everything, you will most likely get a civil looking, tender, edible appropriately cooked piece of meat.

Over the years some traditions were scrapped, some were revamped and some remained unchanged, as in: “this is the way I was taught so it is the only way that is correct.” I understand the tradition of Italian food. I was raised around it and started cooking with my mother who learned from her mother who learned from hers and so on for untold numbers of generations. The traditions remained true, or at least that is what I was told. However, I think most veteran cooks put their own twist on dishes even if they don’t realize it, veering ever so slightly from the very traditions they seek to preserve.

My training with my father was more regimented because he approached it more from a professional standpoint than a home style cook. I did then and do now love many of the traditions of classic Italian cuisine but I still found areas that I wanted to adapt to my personality. Having worked with my parents and my brother Mike, as well as in restaurants, I learned the spirit of collaboration and was a good second cook.

I shared a cabin with my friend “Bones” who was so skinny you could count his ribs through a sweat shirt. He got a job mining slabs of slate out of the walls of a quarry up the canyon between our cabin and Rocky Mountain National Park. His boss was built like a fire hydrant with arms — arms the size of hams taken from a giant wild boar. He laughed when Bones asked him for a job and even bet his brother Jorge (we found out later) that he wouldn’t last the week — and he was hired on Wednesday. Hector, his wife Luisa, and their three kids lived in a single story house across the park that was behind our cabin.

Bones had quit taking his lunch to work because Hector would bring enough food from home to feed an army and he often told me how wonderful his lunches were. After Bones proved he could hang with the toughest of them and had been there about a month, Jorge (who spoke only slightly better English than Hector) and Hector came by and invited us to their Wednesday night family feed at Hectors’ house. Jorge did the talking and Hector nodded and smiled brandishing a gold eye tooth that gave him the bandito look I am sure he desired.

Bones had gotten pretty good at deciphering what they were trying to convey and once we understood, we accepted. What we didn’t understand at the time was that it was not just that Wednesday, but every Wednesday. I was excited. Growing up in New York State I knew some Cubans and a lot of Puerto Ricans and had sampled their fine cuisines, but had never met a Mexican or eaten Mexican food. I thought Taco Bell was Mexican and had not even seen that until I hit Colorado. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.

I was looking forward to a home cooked Mexican meal. What I got was an education. Bones and I walked alongside the St. Vrain River through the park and back to our hosts’ home. I had scraped up some cash for flowers and presented them to the obviously pregnant woman that answered the door assuming that she was Luisa. She smiled warmly and waved us in but didn’t take the flowers. She led us into the kitchen where another woman wearing a summer dress and handmade apron greeted us speaking in rapid Spanish that flew right past us. She bowed politely as the pregnant woman then took the flowers and handed them to her and said “Luisa” gesturing toward our host.

This particular Wednesday night the house special was homemade tamales. They were unbelievably good. I had never had anything like it. Flavors so different from the Italian food I had grown up with, but of a character that in many ways was reminiscent of a style of cooking that I understood. During dinner, Hector and Luisa’s three children spoke English and were thrilled to translate for us. We ate until we thought we would burst, talked and laughed, rested, then ate some more. Hector was proud of Bones. He grabbed his arm and held up his hand in the air like he had just won a prize fight. He squeezed Bones’ bicep to show me how much he had changed and indeed he had. He was getting larger by the day. He would come home whipped but after a few days it was obvious that the work that he was doing was giving him strength unlike anything he had ever developed.

It was when we were leaving, that Marco informed us that we were expected to be there every Wednesday, now that we were part of the family. It gave me an idea. As it turned out, the pregnant woman was Jorge’s wife Anita, and Luisa’s culinary assistant. She was pregnant with twins and couldn’t move around well because of the smallish kitchen. I was off on Wednesdays and offered to come early to help out if she would teach me. She looked to Hector who nodded his assent and the deal was done.

Next: Learning with Luisa.  “Taste It” homepage , see the entire Taste it Blog Archive, or check out his recipes.

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Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.