Kosher cuisine on the go with the accent on Mexico
In the Fairfax area recently, married chefs Matthew Sieger and Rikki Garcia-Sieger were whipping up scratch-made glatt kosher Mexican vittles on their new food truck, Holy Frijoles!
At lightning speed, Sieger loaded shredded pastrami into a corn tortilla and spooned on pickled mustard seed salsa spiked with jalapeños. Next up was a smoked steelhead trout taco covered with pureed pasilla and New Mexico chile rojo sauce. Vegetarian fare included charred broccolini tacos and Nopales sopes: a masa (corn) cake topped with cactus, beans, sautéed red bell peppers, salsa verde, red onions and cilantro.
“We try to buy as much as possible from local farmers markets,” Garcia-Sieger said while serving up a braised brisket birria sope. “We smoke our own fish and house cure our own pastrami. And all of our meat is grass-fed organic.”
The menu is a nod to Sieger’s Jewish background as well as Garcia-Sieger’s Mexican-Catholic heritage; the couple opened the truck soon after moving from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in September.
Previously Sieger, 38, was the executive chef of the now-closed Bon Marche Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, where he cooked French classics such as coq au vin and house-made charcuterie. Garcia-Sieger, 36, was the executive pastry chef for the Mercer Restaurant Group, where she prepared everything from sweet-and-savory goat cheese balls with Meyer lemon curd and sorrel cake to a more traditional mille-feuille with berries, pastry cream and caramelized sugar.
But after Bon Marche closed, the couple decided to relocate south to start their first business. “We couldn’t do it in San Francisco, because it’s just completely unaffordable,” Sieger said. “A ton of restaurants have opened there in the last couple of years, but a ton of restaurants also have closed. San Francisco is a great food city, but it’s not a very big city, and it just can’t support what’s up there right now.”
Garcia-Sieger added, “A food truck is a small business that we could do quickly and very much on our own. It cuts out part of the overhead, the stress and also the stuffiness of a restaurant. It’s just making really good food, and interacting directly with the customers. And we don’t have to worry about having servers or fancy table cloths.”
The chefs decided to go kosher because they had an “in” with Los Angeles’ observant community through Sieger’s Modern Orthodox sister.
Just as Mexikosher in Pico-Robertson proffers sophisticated Mexican food, courtesy of Japanese-Mexican-Catholic Top Chef Katsuji Tanabe, Sieger and Garcia-Sieger bring their own honed techniques to Holy Frijoles! (holyfrijolesla.com).
“A lot of people come from the other side where they were home cooks and then want to start a food truck,” Sieger said. “But we’re the opposite. We were cooking in fine dining and we’re now trying to bring that same type of quality to a truck.”
Their broccolini tacos, for example, are topped with pickled green garlic, and their churro doughnuts were stuffed with an Arkansas black apple jam for Chanukah.
Then there is the “bubbuelita” soup, a fusion of classic Jewish matzo ball and Mexican albondigas (meatball) soups. (“Bubbe” means “grandmother” in Yiddish, while “abuelita” is the same word in Spanish.) In this version, matzo balls are flavored with chicken fat, and ground chicken meatballs are stuffed with rice, onions, cloves, cumin and coriander. They’re served up in a chicken broth infused with carrots, raw onions, cilantro and lime, with a chile rojo sauce on the side.
Sieger grew up in Lakewood and regularly attended the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, Gan Israel camps and Camp Ramah, as well as United Synagogue Youth.
“We cooked classic Jewish food,” he said of his childhood home. “I was in the kitchen with my mother starting at 5 or 6.”
“My parents were big foodies,” he added, “so we used to go to the fancy restaurants [in Los Angeles] back in the ’80s and ’90s: L’Orangerie, Patina and Rockenwagner.” As a boy, Sieger ate braised rabbit and caviar during the family’s treks to Michelin-starred spots in Europe.
“I remember reading Julia Child’s cookbook from cover to cover when I was 10 or 11,” said Sieger, who also avidly perused Gourmet magazine. He watched Child and chef Jacques Pepin on their PBS shows — the same programs that captivated Garcia-Sieger as a girl.
Raised in Walnut Creek, Calif., she still remembers the smells of her grandmother cooking flour tortillas early in the morning. From the age of 5, she stood on a stool in the kitchen to help the family prepare tamales for Christmas. The sopes the couple now serves remind her of those holiday endeavors.
Garcia-Sieger went on to attend the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco and to make her way as a pastry chef at some of that city’s esteemed restaurants. Meanwhile, the young Sieger talked his way into an entry-level position at Four Oaks restaurant in Bel Air, where he worked under the former executive chef of L’Orangerie. He eventually became a sous chef at The Village Pub in Woodside, Calif., which earned its first Michelin star under his tenure.
Sieger and Garcia-Sieger met through mutual friends in the Bay Area and married in 2012. When they moved here a few months ago, they settled in Boyle Heights, previously an iconic Jewish neighborhood that is now predominantly Latino.
They bought a 10-year-old food truck for Holy Frijoles! and earned glatt kosher certification through OK Kosher. “It was funny, because when we started the kashrut process, they were asking us what kind of prepared or canned foods we use,” Sieger said. “And we were like, ‘We don’t use any canned or prepared foods. [Most] everything on the truck comes raw and we make it ourselves.’ ”
Since opening on Nov. 28, the Siegers have worked up to 14-hour days while serving hundreds of customers at nine locations throughout Los Angeles — not only in Jewish areas such as Pico-Robertson but also at downtown spots where their clientele is mostly non-Jewish.
“I think it was around our third day that we had a couple of Chassidic Jews come up to the truck and they never had a taco before,” Garcia-Sieger said. “That was really cool. We’re able to expose parts of the Orthodox community to a different type of cuisine, and that’s been really exciting.”
BEEF BRISKET BIRRIA
6 guajillo chilies
6 pasilla chilies
2 arbol chilies
2 quarts water
1 onion, quartered
6 cloves garlic
3 tomatoes, halved
3 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 7-pound brisket
Toast chilies in dry pan over medium high heat a few minutes on each side until slightly toasted. Remove seeds and stems.
In a 2-quart pot, add chilies, 1 quart of water, onion, garlic, tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes and then puree in a blender. Cool the puree in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Rub chili puree all over brisket and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Place brisket in braising pan and cover with remaining water. Cover tightly with lid or foil and braise for 3 to 4 hours in preheated oven until fork tender. Let cool for 1 hour. Shred meat and mix with braising liquid.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.