On the Line: Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria, Part Two

When we read over Carlos Salgado's answers, the word that comes to mind is nerd. But nerdy in the best possible sense. Think about it. A nerd made the world want a certain smartphone. Someone possessing book smarts is so knowledgeable, so passionate about what they believe in, you can see it in the product they turn out. So Carlos, nerd away.

Read our interview with Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria, Part One.
And now, on to Part Two . . . .

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Hiking, climbing, cycling, watching old films or listening to music. All the while, thinking about cooking. When I”m not doing that, I'm reading about cooking. And when I sleep, I dream about cooking.

Last song playing:
English: New Year by Beach House.
Spanish: El Pastor by Miguel Aceves Mejia.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Orange, went to Villa Park High, worked at tech companies in Irvine/Costa Mesa until 2002 and eventually moved to San Francisco to start my cooking career. I came back about two years ago to work with my parents and open Taco Maria.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
How and when to shut up.

What did you learn from your Bay Area mentors?
In my time at Coi in San Francisco and at Commis in Oakland, I saw and tasted first-hand how storied food is always better; how the impulse behind a dish and the values you bring into the kitchen will elevate a dining experience. I have a Thomas Keller book signed and inscribed with “It's all about memories!” That's true. What we do is all about creating or evoking memories.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
Strangely, it's not food related. Or maybe it is. I'm grateful to have parents who gave me access to any book I could possibly want. So I have fond memories of encyclopedia and almanacs and history books, technical books on electronics and programming, tomes on astronomy, paleontology or archaeology. I didn't discover girls until high school, but was seduced by books at an early age.

Coolest place and/or actor you've served?
In my career, I've been fortunate enough to cook for or with a number of amazing chefs in SF, LA, Paris and New York . The list is too long to elaborate, but I've been humbled by access and exposure to so much talent.

But I'm a food nerd, so possibly  the coolest “celebrity” I've served has been author Harold McGee. Once I accidentally ended up on a panel with him talking about molecular gastronomy. And I once cooked at a dinner party with Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and Mike Patton (Faith No More). That was cool. Those guys eat better and know more about food than most restaurant people.

What were you up to five years ago?
Back then I was the Pastry Chef at Coi in San Francisco.

Last book you read:
I finally finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I was as moved by the story as I was by the author when I had the opportunity to hear him speak in SF last year.

What's your goal with Taco Maria (brick & motar, fleet of trucks, staying the same)?
Our goal has always been the same: to open a restaurant and give our fans a place to sit, eat, drink and be comfortable any night of the week.

Last thing you looked up/searched online:
Orange County indoor commercial charcoal requirements and regulations. I'm always working.

Do you have any skills that are non-food related?
In my previous life, I was a technologist. I worked at a few start-ups building game networks, file share networks, social networks– precursors to services like Facebook, XBOX Live and Spotify. To engineers, I was a designer. To designers, I was an engineer. Never considered myself qualified for either title until I started cooking. Now I feel like I get to practice both disciplines.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Becoming a cook saved my life. I'm quite serious. So if I weren't cooking, I'd either be dead, or so boring that you could mistake me for dead.

To learn more about Taco Maria, find them online at www.tacomaria.com or visit their Twitter feed here.

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