[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #2 in February 2006]
Nance What I’ve noticed in your shoe store here is that you have, you cook here, I mean right behind you have tons of spices. You have onions, limes, chilies, salt and everything. Can you tell me a little about why you like to cook and what you cook here?, ,
Juan Well I cook first of all, because I love to cook and because its my roots. And my wife doesn’t cook that much
N Your wife doesn’t cook.
J No, she cooks. She just doesn’t give me the taste that I want.
J And that’s another point of why I cook here is because my kids, when they come from school, and they are hungry so I feed them. If they go to the house, my wife does not cook there because she works and has no time to cook at the house for them at dinnertime. She works nights and that is one of the reasons why I cook here. And I cook sometimes because I am busy and I cant go out for dinner, so I cook in here in between working and it’s better, cheaper and I can feed more than four people. I can feed more. I cook the carnitas on Sunday.
N (Points towards pot) That is huge! I mean how many people can you feed with that huge thing?
J That’s the reason I bought it so big! I only cook 40 pounds of meat. 40 pounds in one day, that’s it. I started up for me, then for my two kids—the twins when they were 15 years old, two years ago. And then I started to cook for a lot of people, so I started bringing the meat—the pork—to make carnitas. People thought I was selling the carnitas, and started asking me to make them carnitas. Ever since then people come by and ask me “are you making carnitas?” and I say “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.” So now, I sell to public on Sunday.
N And you cook outside?
J Yeah, I cook outside
N And you let people sit outside and eat them?
J Anybody. I put my big white tent out and I have my cutting boards. Only once a week, for 3 hours.
N So what does a plate of carnitas cost?
J Well it depends on how many pounds. But usually four bucks.
N So how many pounds are on that plate? I don’t know, I am a vegetarian
J A pound and a half maybe. But it comes with salsa, tortillas…. more or less.
N So you serve tortillas…
J And salsa
N That you make?
J My son does the salsa.
N Where do you get your meat? Do you get it locally?
J Yeah, at Packing Meat Company, right at 42nd and south Ashland. Right by Swap-O-Rama, by the big bridge. Near Ashland and Pershing and next to the gas station is the Swap-O-Rama, a big huge thrift market and around the corner is the Packing Meat Company.
N Have you ever had anyone come over and ask you if you have a restaurant license? No one has ever asked you for that?
J No, only because I only cook on Sundays. It’s not big business, but I am trying to open a restaurant.
N Really? Where? In here?
J I don’t know yet. Near this area. I am buying some things and equipment already because the shoe thing, the business—I am tired of it.
N The shoe thing you are tired of?
J Yeah, it’s too much. I feel that I have to look for something more exciting, you know? To keep going to different stages.
N Are you going to talk about how you make your carnitas?
J Oh! It’s actually very simple. You take the lard, it depends on how many pounds you are making, but I take one box. I take about 20, no 15 pounds of lard.
N For 40 pounds of carnitas?
J Yes. Then I take salt, garlic, orange juice, and coca-cola.
N What was that, coca-cola?
J coke, cola …
N Wait, you use garlic, orange juice, salt, lard and coca cola?
J Uh huh. You can laugh if you want to.
N (Laughs). And then it just cooks in there like a soup?
J No, it is deep-fried.
N So, all those things are deep-fried? You don’t take the meat and soak it first? You just put it in there.
J And a couple of hours go by …
N So the coca cola makes it darker and sweeter?
J Not really sweet, but it helps out with the tan/brown color. It is golden brown.
N And the orange juice?
J For the color too, and for the taste. A lot of people use milk, or some beer. Everybody is different and you can really use a lot of stuff. But I prefer to keep it simple and people seem to like it.
N Yes, you are popular enough for people to come here…
J And now every week I cook for myself and for my kids.
N And your friends
J And my friends that are over here. My partner here, he helps me cook. And my wife and kids. I don’t really like when people see me eating and I don’t offer anything. Its like a tradition, it’s culture. To have a little place and every week we meet.