Monday, May 25, 2020

Home Eat & Drink Farm to Table: Foco

Farm to Table: Foco

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Salt Lake’s 900 East and 1300 South intersection is a destination for anyone needing a haircut, tattoos, piercings, a vintage outfit, and most recently, excellent Mexican food. The Foco food truck, with its bubblegum pink neon sign, set up residence in the Good Times Tattoo parking lot six months ago and has since gained a loyal local following.

Foco is owned by Sam Oteo, of Orem’s Tortilla Bar, and is run by Oteo and co-chef, Mia Kodama. When asked about the truck’s inspiration, Oteo notes that foco means “light bulb” in Spanish.

“I just had an idea to do tacos from a food truck.” Oteo spent much of his career in LA fine dining with celebrity chefs, but he felt desperate to do something different. “Street food is important because it is about making something delicious and accessible,” he says. He notes that some vendors in Mexico will only make and sell one dish. “But their version of that dish will be the best that there is.”

Even as he talks about his light bulb moment, Oteo is quick to give credit to Kodama. “[Foco] is a collaboration of chefs,” he says. He and Kodama call each other “Chef” as they cook, and there is obvious, mutual respect and symbiosis in how they work together in the kitchen.

Kodama’s background is also in fine dining, including an internship at Communal in Provo. She met Oteo while working in Utah before starting a job in Austin, Texas. “When Sam told me he was opening a food truck, I quit my job and moved back here,” she says. “I just really like Sam’s food.”

Oteo’s food is distinctly Mexican, the techniques are French, and the organic ingredients are local whenever possible. Foco sources from producers including Clifford Family Farms, Creminelli Fine Meats, and a cow share in southern Utah. “The ingredients we get are so good,” says Oteo. “The least we can do [to them], the better.” The end result is precisely executed, flavorful food, with a menu that changes seasonally.

Staples, however, are the tortillas used to make tacos and tostadas. Oteo and Kodama not only make the masa for the tortillas from scratch using Anson Mills’ corn, but each tortilla is handmade to order. While it may seem unusual to put such effort into tortillas, it’s for good reason. “The nutritious value of the corn is enhanced by eating it in tortilla form, but that nutrition in a [cooked] tortilla only lasts about 14-15 minutes,” says Oteo.

Kodama drizzles a tortilla with a little olive oil, sprinkles it with flaky salt, and rolls it up before handing it to me. It is still hot from the griddle, and almost unbelievably pliable. I take a bite, and feel like I’m biting into a cloud, if clouds were made from masa. It is one of the most comforting things I have eaten in a long time. I finish it quickly and find myself desperately wishing that I had another.

That wish is forgotten as Oteo places a plate in my hands. On it are two piping hot churros, fresh from their coconut oil bath, dripping with local honey. The golden-brown exterior is light and crunchy, and the inside is meltingly creamy. An order of churros will get you an entire plate of honey-laden pastries, more than enough for sharing (but only with people you really, really like).

That interplay of crunchy and soft, rich and light, is a common theme throughout Foco’s menu. Two of my favorite items, the avocado tostada and the pear and Brie torta (served hot on a toasted roll), are perfect examples of this contrast. They also happen to be vegetarian. Kodama notes it’s an important goal to offer delicious vegetarian and vegan options in addition to their meat-focused dishes. “[Vegetarian] options can be an afterthought in restaurants, but there are so many amazing dishes centered around vegetables,” she says. “It’s not that hard to make great vegetarian food.”

Then again, Oteo and Kodama make making great food look exceptionally easy.

Foco is open from 11:00am until midnight Tuesday through Saturday, and plans to be open into the winter. Follow them on Instagram @dafocotruck for updates.

Rachel Sanders is a Utah transplant who has fallen hard for the local, sustainable food scene. She likes to talk about food, think about food, and make food, both for work and for fun. Find her writing, recipes, and photography at fieldandforestfood.com.

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