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Chucheman Hernandez: Tijuana's Underground Food-Video Star

Chucheman and Chuchegirl with their custom Coriat stove
Chucheman and Chuchegirl with their custom Coriat stove
Bill Esparza

Unless you subscribe to the Latino package on Dish Network--I do!--you may not have noticed that Mexico now has its own food network:

Utilisima

. The global foodist fever has caught on south of the border, introducing reality-based food programming, and the concept of chef as celebrity. It was all very clear when I attended a conference in Ensenada this past summer for culinary students--they practically ran us over trying to get an autograph from one of Utilisima's stars.

Baja has received a lot of coverage from the Argentine-based Utilisima network shows hosted by Tabascan native, chef Aquiles Chavez (he's as big in Mexico now as Emeril was a few years ago), who dedicated several shows to Baja coverage, and from Ensenada's own chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris in their hit show Benito y Solange--their playful romp through Ensenada and Baja's wine country. Along with all the recent US media coverage, Baja has become a cross-border superstar.

The cooking and travel shows taped in Baja have featured the top Baja chefs, of course, and its legendary street stands, with plenty of the dumping and stirring associated with cooking shows. As much as I love these shows, and enjoy taking a stab at some of the recipes, I'm far more interested in making the Mexican food I crave when I'm back at home. I'm talking about paisa food, cabrones, and I thought there was no hope out there until I heard about a Tijuana home cook named Chucheman. You want to put together a down home parrillada overflowing with roasted meats, a mean Tijuana-style beef birria, or even an authentic pescado zarandeado just like they do in Sinaloa? Chucheman is your, um, man.

Chucheman Hernandez, who took his name from one of his favorite pastimes--getting sweets from chucherias (Mexican sweet shops)--was born in Jalisco and has cooking in his blood. He learned to cook from his mother, was a taquero for 3 years in Culiacan, Sinaloa; cooked in the galley at a San Diego submarine base, and was a line cook at the Soup Exchange in Chula Vista. He has lived in Tijuana for the last 24 years, and has always been curious about cooking.

At first, Hernandez started to upload random travel videos to YouTube just for fun, until his family and his wife (Chuchegirl) encouraged him to do his first cooking video. He had created a homemade pizza using flour tortillas as the crust, Ragu tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, onions, garlic, peppers, whole garlic cloves, pepperoni, and ham; everyone loved it so much they thought he should share the recipe. It seems like Chucheman knew he was destined for fame from the start--he came out from the start with his signature tag line, "¡Riquísimo!"--and nowadays he hears people blast him a riquisimo or two at the supermarkets just as much as Emeril hears fans say, "Bam! To date, his paisa pizza has received close to 375,000 hits on YouTube.

Chucheman didn't even realize he was becoming famous until he began to be recognized all over Tijuana. He was just having fun, even taping a segment where he and his family members were opening Coke bottles with spoons to watch them shoot across the room like bullets. His YouTube page counts over 9.5 million hits; top videos have been viewed over 300,000 times and around 60,000 fans on his website.

And now, the videos!
 
Hernandez's videos on making flour and corn tortillas are the best ones I've seen. He shows you all the tricks he picks up from the experts at stands around town, and now throughout the entire country. The huge traffic he was receiving didn't go unnoticed, and about 8 months ago, Coriat, a Mexico based kitchen appliance manufacturer hooked our Chucheman up with a custom stove, and some funding for ingredients and culinary travel. Only in Tijuana can a guy that lives in a working class neighborhood deep into the city have a pimped out stove from a fresa company, and he even has his own brand of all-pupose seasoning.


Cabrito al pastor

But don't think Chucheman will ever sell out. My favorite video is where he shows us how to build a grill and rack for spit roasted kid estilo Monterrey using a blowtorch. Let's see Rick Bayless try that!

His shows are hilarious, too, explaining that the marinade for the kid is "muy importante--puro sal", as he rubs the animal down with rock salt on his bare kitchen table. Cross-contamination be damned. Another segment stars a dead, singing "Chuche" fish with a highly visible string attached to the mouth for pescado zarandeado.


Pescado Zarandeado


I'm blown away by the detail Hernandez demonstrates on tacos de canasta, the artisan basket-steamed tacos of Mexico City, from the fillings to the laborious stacking of tacos into a basket. He takes the mystery out of street foods, with recipes you'll not find in cookbooks, or on cooking shows. Chucheman make the foods we covet like shrimp pozole, or Guadalajara-style tortas ahogadas--you'll not find wasteful airtime for such

chingadas

as Mexican lasagna (

cough...Bayless

).

Chucheman gets his inspiration from what he likes to eat, and sometimes from his viewers. Coriat has him on a busy schedule these days with weekly videos, and trip to DF and Oaxaca. As much as he is liable to show you how to do a roast suckling pig or the Peruvian pit barbeque of potatoes and meats known as pachamanca, he is not above opening a bag of Doritos and instructing you on how to make bomb-ass tostilocos.

Tijuana's local kitchen hero may one day open a restaurant, but there's no doubt he will only get bigger. He recently aired his first cooking video in Spanish and in English for roast suckling pig, and his English is excellent, but even the Spanish-only clips are user friendly. One of the most valuable tips Hernandez shares with his viewers is the mixed spice packets, or especias mixtas he uses in many recipes, that are found in every Latino super market. These are the secret weapons of many Mexican home cooks in taking on the classics: menudo, birria, pozole, etc. I'd love to see Chucheman in Kitchen Stadium someday with his El Mexicano brand spices, and milk carton full of cueritos (pickled pork rinds) and a welding mask. t'd be quite a show, and whatever Chucheman would come up with, I'm sure it'd be ¡ri...quisimo!

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