“When people ask what we served in my family’s cafe, I say ‘tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.’ When they ask what I serve today, I say ‘tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.’”
I started out busing tables at my family’s restaurant, the Big Spring Truck-Stop Cafe. My first memories are of Tammy Wynette on the jukebox and those big-haired waitresses. We always had chicken-fried steak on the menu, green-chile enchiladas, tacos, barbecue, fried chicken. When I was seven or eight, I wanted to be a cook. What a cool job, I thought, to work in a floppy hat and a dirty apron with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth.
I dabbled in cooking through high school, but by then I wanted out. I majored in piano and voice at East Texas State University at Commerce and planned to teach music at the university level. After I graduated I took a trip to France, and it changed my life. I was smitten with the food—the street markets, the smell of baking bread. It was all I could think about. French food had class; it was artistic. I wanted to cook it.
When I came back to the United States, I got a job in Dallas at a little restaurant called the Bronx. Then I had a chance to be a kitchen assistant at a program called the Great Chefs of France, sponsored by the Mondavi Winery in California, working twelve-hour days with three-star chefs like the Troisgros brothers and Georges Blanc. After that I started a catering business, but in the back of my mind, I still craved the food I had grown up eating. So when I had the opportunity to open my own restaurant, I thought, “Why can’t I