On Tuesday night the food truck park and bar was paid yet another film crew visit, this time by “Aquiles en Houston” host Aquiles Chavez and Aaron Sanchez, chef and owner of Centrico, who’s appeared on Food Network’s “Chopped”, “Chefs vs City” and as a season one contestant on “The Next Iron Chef.”
The duo was in town to visit with the Institute of Chili, owned by Ana Fernandez.
“The producer said two celeb chefs would be coming, but I had no idea Aaron would be here,” says Fernandez who watches “Chopped” nightly.
Because of the truck’s tight space, filming took more or less four hours. The production crew filmed Fernandez making her famous chili, and preparing the truck’s most popular item, “The Bomb,” which features brisket on a bun topped with chili, a fried egg and cheese. The chefs also talked about the history of the truck which brings to light the history of the Chili Queens of San Antonio.
The episode will be aired in South America, Mexico and some Fox affiliates in the States sometime in March.
Follow the Institute of Chili on Facebook and Twitter.
Follow on Twitter: @ShrinkingFoodie
“The Institute of Chili” in San Antonio, a new generation of “chili queens” by Adán Medrano August 24, 2012
“The Institute of Chili” in San Antonio, a new generation of “chili queens”
August 24, 2012
“The Institute of Chili” is a food truck in San Antonio operated by visual artist and cook, Ana Fernandez.
Parked just a short walk from the Alamo in a bustling food truck park called Alamo Street Eat Bar, the truck offers traditional and updated chili dishes: chili on a brisket burger, chili on fajita tacos, chili on tamales, and, of course, straightforward chili served with cornbread. Ana says that “The Institute of Chili” is following in the footsteps of a celebrated group of business women, cooks in the 1800′s and early 1900′s who operated open-air diners in San Antonio’s market square. They “were the original mobile truck vendors in San Antonio.”
American writers like Stephen Crane (Red Badge of Courage) wrote about their first taste of Mexican food as they sat at these diners run by indigenous Mexican women. Crane recalled in 1895 that “upon one of the plazas, Mexican vendors with open-air stands sell food that tastes exactly like pounded fire-brick from Hades — chili con carne, tamales, enchiladas, chili verde, frijoles.” (Jennings)
“Chili,” the anglicized term, for “Chile,” stuck in the English vocabulary and to this day is used to refer to any of the array of chiles used in Mexican cuisine. But the name also came to be used to refer to the actual women restaurateurs. “Chili Queens,” they called them. San Antonio native, Annie Madrid Salas exclaims, “I don’t know who named them the chili queens, probably some gringo!” (Silva & Nelson, 2004)
Open-air restaurants are an ancient Native American tradition. Surviving native documents record that prepared foods were a feature of markets in Tlatelolco, Mexico, founded in 1338. Cooks served tamales, tortillas, atole, beans, chocolate and variously filled and stuffed tortillas. (Solis & Gallegos, 2000). Ballinger, Texas was the site of a huge market fair that annually convened thousands of Texas Indians for trade in the 1400′s.
“We are the new chili queens,” says Ana, explaining that her cooking is part of a larger history and of community. “I’ve always loved to cook and to serve food to friends, to all people.” Having learned about the “chili queens” when she was in high school, Ana is not only identifying with them now, she is also moving their legacy a step forward. “The Institute of Chili” is a serious business.
A business just like the outdoor tables of those ladies who preceded the male dominated “TexMex” restaurants that sprouted up in the early 1900′s, just at the same time that the “chili queens” were being shut down by the city of San Antonio health department. Dr. Felix Almaráz, Professor of History at The University of Texas at San Antonio says, “Alamo Plaza was more for Caucasians and business people, politicans. …the chili queens were considered an eyesore because their little setups were not, they were not ‘high tone’”
He laments, “When they were here, we didn’t protect them. We didn’t know that there would be bureaucrats who would come at them. And try to get them either to reform or to change or to move out. And it seems that they moved them out.” (Silva & Nelson, 2004)
With her modern menu featuring artfully-blended Brisket Tacos, Ana Fernandez is proclaiming that they are back.
“We really are honored and excited…to pay homage to the original chili queens. We are really grateful for everyone who comes by the truck to support a new generation of chili queens.”
Solis, F., & Gallegos, A. (2000). El mercado de tlatelolco. Pasajes de la Historia No. 1 El reino de Moctezuma, Retrieved from http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/el-mercado-de-tlatelolco.html
Jennings, F. (n.d.). Popular chili queens graced san antonio plazas. The Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio, Retrieved from http://www.uiw.edu/sanantonio/jenningschiliqueens.html
Silva, N. (Producer), & Nelson, D. (Producer) (2004). The chili queemns of san antonio [Radio series episode]. In Hidden Kitchens. Washington, D.C.: NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4107830
Pecha Kucha, P. (Producer). (2012). Ana Fernandez at pechakucha san antonio vol 6. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AekRuwqxIQ&list=UU8XWdbkeLBzeJVl5jCiVTgQ&index=6&feature=plcp
Fill Up in King William
Mark Bliss, chef and owner of Bliss restaurant, tells us how to spend an ideal day in his fun and funky San Antonio neighborhood (here’s a hint: come hungry).
With its sprawl of art galleries, historic homes, and a growing number of hip restaurants, the King William District is San Antonio’s most vibrant neighborhood. Named Texas’ first Residential Historic District in 1967, today it serves as a bastion for artists and some of the most creative chefs in town, including Mark Bliss, who opened the aptly named Bliss restaurant (foodisbliss.com or 210/225-2547) in February. At Bliss, Mark’s menu changes daily as ingredients such as soft-shell crabs and heirloom tomatoes come through the kitchen door. “The emerging food scene here confirmed my feeling that San Antonio is ready for adventurous dining” he says.
Mod decor and an illuminated patio give this light and airy restaurant the feel of a culinary jewel box. Kick things off with a Prince Cocktail, Feast’s take on the classic gin and tonic, spiked with cilantro and serrano chiles ($9). Then sit outside and nibble a couple of chef Stefan Bowers’ rotating small plates, such as Grilled Duck Breast Tostadas ($12) or Texas Quail with fresh corn polenta and red wine-bacon vinaigrette ($11). 1024 South Alamo Street; feastsa.com or 210/354-1024
The Monterey serves bold flavors in dishes like Pickled Mackerel with kimchi, pine nut butter, and Vietnamese herbs. Brunch offerings such as Fried Green Tomatoes with eggs, Cheddar, and Crystal hollandaise ($11.50) have a cult following. 1127 South St. Mary’s Street; thememontereysa.com or 210/745-2581
La Frite Belgian Bistro
La Frite specializes in Franco favorites such as crêpes filled with creamy lump crab and mushrooms ($13) alongside perfectly crisp, golden pommes frites ($5). Order a pint of Kwak Belgian amber ($9) served in a curvaceous glass cradled in a coachman’s handle—a contraption originally designed in the 1800s for drinking during stagecoach travel. 728 South Alamo Street; lafritesa.com or 210/224-7555
The Friendly Spot Ice House
Grab a pastel-colored chair in the courtyard at The Friendly Spot. Look for more than 200 kinds of beer, Mexican snacks like spicy chorizo nachos, and—major bonus—a playscape for kids. 943 South Alamo Street; thefriendlyspot.com or 210/224-2337
Alamo Street Eat Bar
Here you’ll find six gourmet food trucks, including Where Y’at Third Coast Kitchen (offering Cajun specialties) and The Chili Queens (with brisket tacos). 609 South Alamo Street; alamostreeteatbar.com
Article: Paula Disbrowe|From the September 2012 Magazine Issue