Pozole means family to me.
All of the memories throughout my life have been centered around the dish. The earliest memory that I have as a child was of me eating pozole. It was my birthday and I always requested pozole. To this day, I still only request pozole when that day comes around. I have passed along the tradition to my children now, and now they request it for their birthdays, too.
I started Caló Provisions to honor pozole and everything that it has done for me.
If you need a little primer on the dish, it a sacred stew originating in pre-Hispanic Mexico, made from meat, bones, and hominy. There were no pigs before the Spanish came, so the first versions of pozole were actually made from prisoners of war. While the cannibalistic dish evolved to usually be made out of pork instead, the dish remains to be sacred.
Pozole was one of the first things that I took interest in as a young adult. Hell, the dish is also I how I got my wife to go out with me over ten years ago. I asked her out and she had initially rejected me, since she had just broken up with someone. Still, I kept on sweet-talking her and invited her over for dinner.
Guess what dish I made for her? Pozole.
I asked my grandma to teach me how to make it in preparation for the big evening and she had my back. She taught me how to be patient and skim all of the fat and impurities that arise from the pork neck broth. More importantly, she made sure the pozole tasted bomb that evening. According to my dad, the way my soon-to-be wife ate pozole—complete with plenty of pig feet—would determine if she was right for me. If she was down with the process, then she was the one for me. She was. Sure enough, she slept over and I made her a chorizo burrito the next morning for breakfast, too. We've been together since that evening, and we are about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.
As I grew up, I got into cooking for a living and eventually worked at Eggslut under Alvin Cailan. I started developing a palate for Asian ingredients and it was there where I took my grandma's pozole recipe and made it my own. One thing led to another and I incorporated a Japanese dashi technique into making pozole, but instead of using katsuobushi and kombu, I was inspired by my wife's Central-American background and substituted the ingredients with chicharrón and banana leaves. I started doing a pop-up pozole bar in Los Angeles and people really liked it.
Think ramen-meets-pozole with a Latino-inspired, porky dashi. I even added an egg to it. I roast the pork bones. Add the salty, fatty chicharrón, and then the banana leaves, which add a nice vegetal depth to the broth. If you are vegetarian, I have created a dried shitake mushroom-based broth that is just as delicious, with roasted tofu and blistered kale. Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I want everybody to get the same message about pozole, regardless of your dietary preferences.
Pozole is an all-purpose dish to eat, no matter the season. Feeling a little hungover? Go for it. Feeling a little under the weather? The chiles and bone broth will fix you right up! If done correctly, I feel like pozole can be as big as ramen one day. It definitely has a long way to go but I am already seeing some chefs giving it some love.
Pozole is still the dish that we eat during any family gathering. My grandma and mother have given me props for my new pozole. Of course, my grandma still says her pozole is better than mine. My goal, when I am 60 years old and tired of working in kitchens, is to have a pozole-driven craft beer bar, where Mexican-American rockabilly blasts through the speakers and I can pair Mexican craft beers with all of my pozoles.
Pozole is a lifelong dish for me.
As told to Javier Cabral
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This story was originally published in June 2016
Ted Montoya is the chef and partner behind Caló Provisions. For more info, visit the Caló Provisions website.