Eat, drink, savour: chef Alejandro Ceja wants to change the way you think about food trucks

Local ingredients and a flair for regional cuisine underscore her approach to Mexican cuisine.

After 10 years of cooking for others, chef Alejandro Ceja, owner of Hollister’s El Guapo Kitchen, is on a mission to change the way people think about Mexican food trucks, even as he strives to perfect how it works.

“It’s so hard to go from restaurants to food trucks,” he said. “The main problem is storage, so I have to be creative. I’ve wrecked the truck three times so far because the power in the kitchen wasn’t there. I’ve done a lot of video chats with co-workers to see what they would do differently because I couldn’t practice what I had in mind.

Ceja, 30, was born and raised in Hollister and left about 10 years ago to start his career.

“Fresh out of high school, I didn’t think there was much to do here except commute,” Ceja said, “so I went to the University of Las Vegas to study hospitality and management. I was picked up by Hyatt hotels in New York and worked there until the pandemic hit. I came back here, and when the opportunity arose to have this food truck, I took it. I was tired of working for others and decided to work for myself.

Ceja has been experimenting with what local customers will buy as he tries to expand his offerings into more unusual offerings.

“I changed my menu four times, trying to figure out what the locals are going to eat,” he said. “When I started, I was making bao buns with Wagyu beef, and I had things like black garlic aioli. But many people did not know him and were a little afraid of him. People would look at my menu and tell me it was a bit too exotic for them.

He added: “It was a new experience for me. I used to have to educate my cooks on what kind of ingredients I use, so I look at it the same way I just try to educate my clients. Some people are willing to try new things, and there are people who only want the traditional.”

All products Ceja uses are organic and locally sourced, including free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. And he brings the same care to the preparation as to the selection of his ingredients.

“I take time to do things a little differently,” he said. “My chicken is roasted and shredded by hand when other people traditionally season it with saffron, so it comes out nice and yellow. For the beef, I smoke it to break away from the usual asada. I like to do my al pastor Yucatan style, which makes the beef black instead of the traditional red.

With most of her ingredients sourced within 20 miles of Hollister, Ceja has plenty of room to let her imagination run wild.

“I can get really fresh cabbage and convert it into kimchi, for example,” he said. “And if you have the kimchi, why not turn it into something new? Turn it into kimchi salsa and add a Mexican twist. Ever since I was born here in California, for me, you always want to go against the grain and try something new.

While his menu at his regular Farmer’s Market appearances has reverted to a set of less exotic offerings, Ceja is confident he can help change the way Hollister looks at street food.

“I decided I wanted my food truck to be a mobile restaurant,” he said. “I’m not a taquero, I’m not the taco guy, but I can make really good tacos. For me, being a traditional taco truck is really tough because Mexico has such a wide range of ingredients and techniques that I want to incorporate into my menu. But everything will depend on the clientele. I hope Hollister is ready for this kind of great dining experience.

The foods of El Guapo Kitchen

Chicken Tacos – The free-range chicken is lightly drizzled with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, thyme and parsley and then roasted, which gives it a light caramelized sweetness. The hand-pulled meat is topped with chopped onions and cilantro and Ceja recommends adding some of her salsa verde. The chicken is moist with a full, rich flavor and the tangy medium spiciness of the tomatillo sauce binds the ingredients together, adding heat but not overpowering the more subtle flavor of the meat.

Roast beef tacos – Made with local grass-fed beef marinated in herbs, Ceja recommended the medium-hot red sauce with these tacos. “I love red sauce because it has a little kick,” Ceja said. “I’ve tried a lot of salsas and some of them kill your mouth. Five minutes later, you’re still feeling it and can’t really enjoy anything else. I want mine to be cooler and fluffier. I opted for just a drizzle of lime which added a bright, crisp note to the more subtle spiciness of the meat.

Pastor tacos – “Al pastor is my favorite and I try it everywhere I go,” Ceja said. “I recommend mixing the green and red sauces, which enhance the spices used in cooking the pork.” Ceja makes two different versions of al pastor, an Argentinian black recipe he introduced when he first opened his truck, and the easier-to-find red version, seasoned with achiote, cinnamon, chili peppers and of garlic, which I tasted. On Ceja’s recommendation, I tried both sauces together and found them to compliment the deep earthy spices of the meat well.

Salsa Fries – A foray into county finger foods, the fries are topped with a blend of melted Queso de Oaxaca, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, sliced ​​jalapeños, onions, salsa verde, carne asada and an aioli with sun-dried tomatoes. “Balance is something I really try in my dishes,” Ceja said. “With other places, you can end up with a little protein and a lot of filling. I don’t want to overwhelm my dishes with too much cheese or too much sauce so you can barely taste the rest. This one hits all the right sweet and savory notes, and the layers of flavors and textures explode from this dish.It’s fun to eat and the large amount of meat makes it a meal in itself.

BenitoLink thanks our subscribers, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and provide our readers with the stories that matter to them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support stories about the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and beverage products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.

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