US-India Global Review

49 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018 Wesley Avila Guerrilla Tacos, Los Angeles Wesley Avila has a no-non- sense way about him. When Gary Menes of Le Comptoir asked him about his goals in a job interview, Avila told the chef he wanted to be a taquero - a taco slinger, the furthest thing from the tasting menu Menes would offer. Menes wanted to serve his guests personally, from behind a counter. So did Avila. Menes gave him the job. Avila had known taqueros all his life. He was raised in Pico Rivera, a largely Latino suburb in L.A. County. His mother was born just outside San Diego; his dad emigrated from Durango, Mexico, in the 1970s, washing cars at first, and then snagging a job at a card- board factory that he held for more than 40 years. Listless for years after the tragic death of his mother when he was a teenager, Avila looked like he would put in a life at the same factory; he worked there as a forklift driver for seven years. His father finally intervened. "You guys are American," his father told him. "You should be able to go to school and have a career, and do something you want to do." Avila ultimately quit his job and went to culinary school. He went to Mexico and France and Spain to educate himself and spent years in fine dining. Now 39, Avila launched Guerrilla Tacos in 2012. It took its name from the fact that Avila's taco cart was, at first, a rogue, unpermitted operation. Now a food truck, Guerrilla Tacos might sell a sweet potato taco with French feta and romesco-like salsa one day, or a wild boar taco another. "I really identify as Angeleno - from L.A.," he said. "What my food represents isn't necessarily Mexican, and it isn't high-end. It's Angeleno; it's a melting pot." Daniela Soto-Innes Cosme and Atla, New York Daniela Soto-Innes moved to Houston from Mexico City at age 12, with the blood of a family of cooks in her veins. A great-grand- mother, Luz, had traveled to Paris to train as a cook, and her grand- mother managed a bakery, she says while sipping a fresh cashew-milk cappuccino at Atla, the casual modern Mexican restaurant she helms with Enrique Olivera (of Pujol fame). It was her mother, a lawyer, who enrolled Soto-Innes, 27, in a culinary training program outside Houston when she was just 13. One day, she recalls, a chef came to a class and told them, "You're not going to make any money for eight years. If you're good, maybe five." Perhaps thinking she ought to start early, Soto-Innes began pestering the chef, who worked for a Marriott, for a job. It was two years before the hotel relented. After a stint at Underbelly in Houston, an apprenticeship at Wesley Avila calls his food "Angeleno." Photo by Dylan James Ho and Jeni Ofuso.