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Campy: Mexicali

Campy: Mexicali

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Welcome to Mexicali! Nguyen goes back to the roots of Mexican tacos with his chef friend Esdras Ochoa. Esdras shares his love for authentic tacos as he hopes to bring LA a little piece of his home.

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- [Dispatch Officer] 4972 West 23rd Street in retreat - That's me, Nguyen Tran, on the day I got busted for running an illegal restaurant out of my apartment in North Hollywood. And that's me, a few years later, running one of the most popular restaurants not in Los Angeles. This is me now, taking a break from it all, making a show about going on adventures with some of my favorite chefs. We're gonna camp, we're gonna cook, who knows what's gonna happen? It's Campy. Bienvenidos, amigos, and welcome to Mexico! That's right, across the border. I'm with my good friend, Esdras Ochoa, who makes some of the best tacos in all of Los Angeles. When Es and I first met, he was running an illegal taco stand in a parking lot in the middle of downtown. Now, he's super legit, he even has a health permit, and a couple of restaurants, but he still takes the time to hang out with me. - So, LA's a taco town, you know, everybody loves your tacos, you see 'em in every corner, coming close just to being an American dish, as well. The reason I fell in love with LA instantly was the diversity, and yet, we didn't have the kind of tacos I was used to. But when I lost my job in the casino in 2009, got some coolers, I traded in my car for a truck, drove down to Mexicali and asked my dad "Hey dad, where do you buy all this stuff in Mexicali, like, where all the taqueros buy their stuff?" And he's like, "What do you mean? What do you need that for?" "Oh, you know, I lost my job and I wanna sell tacos on the streets." He looked at me like "You're crazy, what're you talking about?" Some places where food is delicious, but we take it for granted because we grew up with it, and you take it to somewhere else, which they don't have, people love it. Same thing with tacos here, so I was really excited to bring LA a little bit of my hometown. I am Esdras Ochoa, here at Mexicali Taco Company, downtown LA, where we do it Baja style. I think it was my calling in life to make tacos. Baja California Norte is north, and Baja California Sur, south. And up north is Mexicali. On the California side, there's a big fence, Calexico is right on the other side of that wall. And that's where I grew up. - [Nguyen] Oh, wow, they're hot! - [Esdras] Yeah, these are right out of the pan, man. Get little tortillas from the streets of Baja, like, that's what makes these tortillas so special. To me, every element of the taco is important. Want eyeball tacos? - Yeah, yes, si, si! - Just meat and tortilla, that's your canvas for whatever you wanna create, then when you start getting into the sauces, it's a whole different world. Don't be scared, don't be scared! You're set. Ready? 1, 2, 3! - Yeah! - Very eyebally, no? - I see, I see! - I see - I see how you love this. - Cheers! - Cheers. - It's okay, it's okay hang in there, you're doin' good. I love going down to Baja. Soon as you get there, you just feel, like, hey, I could put my guard down, it's time to chill. Being here in the restaurant industry, I'm super super busy all the time, you always like this, like okay, like phones, emails. But when I'm down there, like, all that just fades away, it's gone. - Top of the morning to you, friend. - [Esdras] Good morning, sir. - What we makin', Es? - We're gonna make a delicious breakfast, just for you and I. I prefer cooking over an open fire because it takes me back to my roots, takes me back to the way we do it back home. An open fire really pushes your creativity to how to grill better, how to, what can I throw on, directly on the coals or outside of the coals, on the side, slowly, there's so many ways to cook. Welcome to grits Gonzaga, man, in the middle of nowhere. Down here in Baja California, this is my turf, my man. I gotta get out here at least once a year, man. This really just refreshes me and just gets, it just makes me step back just to realize what I'm doing back home, and the impact I'm doing, y'know? With people around me, it just wants to make me be that much better as soon as I go back. - See that's why I love to hang with you, you're so good! No, I mean you're just such a good person! I'm like, I feel like entirely the opposite, see this is why-- - I'll start swearing, just for you, so you can-- - No! Everyone loves you for a reason. - We're gonna have a lot of fun, we're gonna go climbing, fishing, kayaking. - It's gonna be the best adventure ever! So, Es? - [Esdras] Yes, sir? - What is the purpose of this? - As soon as I found that, I knew that was for you, man. Every trip we have, that's like a lucky pole, that's a lucky weight, so it's an honor to give it to you. - It's an honor, or you think I'm not very good, so I need the luck? - More the second option. - Thanks for nothing! - Nguyen, two zero win? - Technically three zero. - Now it's like you're drunk. I got one fish, and I threw it back 'cause it was too small. And I was really proud of that one fish too, but it was way too small. So, these are triggerfish, right? - These are triggerfish, we call 'em cochito. They're probably one of my favorite fish down here in Baja. Very proud of you, man, you caught that fish, you fought hard, and I'm happy. - Do I get a gold star? - You get a gold star, and a platinum star, too. Just for you, my man. This is my favorite beach to go clam digging. You're literally just walkin' on the sand, kickin' around and they're just all over the place. - Are we really looking for clams, like, right now? Like, are we doing that? I mean, I didn't know if we were just walking and being pretty. - Yes, that's kind of the fun. - That's not a dance you have? - Yeah, you gotta do this dance, man. - The clam dance? - It's like two, two and one, just do a couple turns, and they just start popping up everywhere. Nah, you're looking for these little holes coming out of the sand, kinda like this one right here, but usually, you just dig up maybe tops about half a foot, a foot? And if you don't see 'em, they're usually gone. - Oh, I don't think so. Really reliving my childhood with my dad! Just constant dissapointment. Wait, did I get one? - You got the first one of the day! That's good luck, we're gonna catch a bunch of 'em now. - Boop! Got a lot of shells. - There you go. - [Nguyen] Did you get that? - [Esdras] That is a chocolata. - [Nguyen] Where did you get that from? - It was right on the border, man. - On the border? - See Mexicali Calex here? - Yeah, I get it! - Oh, I thought I could-- - Aw, come on, man. - My chocolata! - See, this one's a little brinier, it's got more of a bite to it. Now that we got two clams, back to back, different sizes, I'm gettin' excited, man, I'm lookin' for the bigger one. - What is that? What is that? - That's the mom we were lookin' for. - What, what? Oh no! - Oh, no! - No, you didn't get anything. What, woah, big daddy! - Triple kiss. - It's a triple? - Okay, they should kiss each other! Now let's make more babies! - [Nguyen] We are living the circle of life as we speak, my friend. - [Esdras] Literally. - [Nguyen] But who eats us, then? - [Esdras] Uh... We're gonna steam our clams here, our chocolatas and our white clams we caught earlier. We're gonna sink 'em face down, so they get stuck on these pebbles, pour a little bit of water, and since it's kinda like a ceremony, y'know, you see this a lot when they had big parties, quiceneras or weddings, you got some snails, I'll throw in a couple of those. It's kinda like a tradition amongst the local Baja Californians. Some herbs before I actually cover it, and I'm gonna coat 'em with these bigger solid rocks over here on top, we're gonna put another two layers. Boom! - [Nguyen] Doesn't get fresher than this, man. - [Esdras] And what's the key to fileting a fish? - Sharp knives. - [Esdras] And what don't we have? - [Nguyen] Oh, I already know what you don't have, I can tell. - [Esdras] We're done. Ready to eat? - [Nguyen} Yeah. How long have they been cooking like this? 40, 45 minutes or so, Really? - [Esdras] Yeah, man, we were having fun. - Sit there for a little bit. - Look how big that thing is, that's not a tomato! - [Esdras] This is a traditional way to cook our salsa, we got some hot coals, we got some fire, it's all you need. You got all the sediment of the ashes that fall in, so it adds a whole different dimension to the salsa. Bang of smokiness into it, and that's it. - [Nguyen] Amazing. - [Esdras] Simple, but, you notice how simple everything is? - [Nguyen] But the simplest things in life are far more common than people think, it's also really easy to mess up the simplest things, to overthink it. - Just kinda sittin' here, man, just checkin' this place out, you got food, beauty. Y'know, what else you need? - I bite into a chip-- - And you get some crunch! - I'm sorry! You were having a moment, I didn't wanna ruin it! - I was about to shed a tear, - No! And then - I can't get over how good this is, do you blame me? I actually could sit here. I'm glad you quit your day job, I'm glad you became one of my illegal brethren. - 's right, man. - Aww. - Are you gonna read me that bedtime story now? - Gonna tuck you in. - Gonna tuck me in? - Just gonna tuck you in.

Coming right up

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