How the World’s Most Authentic Tex-Mex is Made — Cooking in America


– If you go back in history,
it’s crazy to think that some of the first immigrants to Houston was from the United States. This was part of Mexico, still. We’re gonna be going to
the original Ninfa’s. The originator of the
fajita and we’re gonna meet with Chef Alex Padilla who has
cooked all around the world. This guy has spent 18 years in fine dining and now he’s come back to Houston. Back to his home. – Ninfa’s is an iconic place.
– Right. – For all the restaurants in Houston, this is the mothership. This is where fajitas got
invented by Mama Ninfas. It is where–
– Whoo! We go through these, 135
thousand pounds, a year. – No wonder you need a
grill the size of Texas. – [Alex] You can see
where we cooked the fat at just to keep the fat
running into the meat. – This is straight wood, no? – Straight wood. – [Sheldon] Wood burning grill. – [Alex] But, right now we’re
using mesquite and almond. Fajita is just the name in Spanish, but this is outside skirt. – [Sheldon] In English. – Back in the day, this
was a very underappreciated piece of meat and somebody found out it was the best piece of meat. It’s super flavor, super tender. This restaurant opened up in 1973. And this is how it did start. Selling tacos through a window. Now, I feel like I’m living my dream the way this place turned. (upbeat music) Welcome to Houston.
(laughing) What do you think about
the Mexican candies? (laughing) Whoo! – Chef tryin’ to kill me right now. You originally from Houston? – Honduras. – From Honduras. And then you came here when
you were 16 years old. – My mom worked for Ninfa’s in the 80s. – In the 80s. – Single mother. Being the oldest, three
sisters and myself, they seen me like the older
brother slash daddy, you know? Forced me to learn how
to cook at the early age. It wasn’t easy. We struggled a lot. I moved to New Jersey, New York, and I end up in California. When I met Nancy Oakes. Before Boulevard, Nancy used to have a little hole-in-the-wall. We used to have only 13 tables. We used to call that L’Avenue. I was, barely, 18. – Yeah, 18 years old standing
next to one of the most iconic chefs in America, Nancy Oakes. What was it like cooking next to her? – Let me put it this way,
there was only 13 tables. Everybody was pastry chef,
everybody was a dishwasher, everybody was butcher. That’s how I started, you know. – Get some training grounds, though. You got to see all of that. – In three months, I was
already on the grill. In the morning, you know,
I was the butcher guy. Four years later, we moved
to 300 seat restaurant. And I was the executive sous-chef. I would see Nancy like my mom and she would see my like
her son that she never had. This is a street food,
taking it to another level. Got a little bit of lime,
cilantro, white pepper, chipotle. This is Cotija cheese. This is the most ridiculous
part on this dish, mezcal. Look at this. Elote Borrache y Loco. Crazy and drunk. Cheers, my friends. (speaking in foreign language) You feel like that corn right now. – You blowing my mind right now, Chef. When I was thinking of Tex-Mex, I didn’t know what to expect. 18 years in fine dining, putting
that technique behind it. It’s delicious. 6,000 tortillas a day. Chef, she doing five at a time over there. – You go like this. Like, if you’re making
a dumpling or crepe. You do this really gently. – She’s going so fast. – If you can beat her,
you can have the job. – That’s why I make Filipino food. – This is a Hawaiian tortilla. This is, like, a Hawaiian map. – Sell me out, Chef. The magic is in the hands, right? – It’s in the touch.
– Yeah. – You put in your heart. – Why still do it from scratch, Chef? – Early age, you see this, you know? Your aunt, your mom,
your grandma, making it. So, wanna keep the tradition. – You cooking here. What about mom? She raised the family
through here and then– – Her life is right here, yeah. – Yeah, you’re doing the same. – I was, like, almost in tears
when I saw this place again. You gotta love this place. You gotta feel it. That’s why in every meal,
we put everything, man. (upbeat, heavy bass music) – Even the tortillas made fresh everyday. – Now, this is the one you
tried to make, right here. – See, it turned out alright. Maybe not that perfect
circle, but it’s okay. – From cooking foie gras, the best caviar, I’m eating fajitas now. But, what is behind the
fajitas is the history and I’m part of that. – We take for granted of
how diverse Houston is now. Was it like that back in the day? – 20 years ago, Houston was empty. Now, Houston is like a
chocolate melting pot. We’re so lucky here. We want Mexican food one day,
Hawaiian food, Chinese food, Italian food, French food, you name it. It’s all in Houston now. In San Francisco, I spent 18 years. – 18 years in San Francisco? – That makes me take
the job too, you know. Family and I saw my mom, my sisters. And after six months, I
started changing little, little, little, little, little things. Quality, techniques. I like to train dishwashers. I like to train prep cooks
and move those guys on. I see those guys the same way I went through many years back. – You’re the Nancy Oakes
of Houston right now. (laughing) – She’s prettier than me. (laughing) I would like to show you the new stuff. Let’s start with the blue
crab, jumbo lump crab cake. And it’s coming from
the wood burning oven. With chipotle sauce and pasilla pepper. On this side, we’ve got confit duck. A jicima-mango and cucumber with Queen’s paste and raspberry sauce. This is octopus from Spain. Sous-vide style and you
can make tacos out of it. – [Sheldon] Definitely
taking it to the next level. – This is from the gulf. Which is right behind us. – Aw man, that’s delicious. The sous-vide is so tender. And then the duck confit,
classic French style, yeah. We went from the O.G. fajitas and then we’re doing duck confit tacos. I love it. Still feels like a spot
that is of the neighborhood but you’re inserting all of these flavors that are super creative. Your food and your story is
what this city is built upon. You’re a guy from Honduras making Tex-Mex. – You know with European
training and American and I chose to work with Latin flavors. And make the original Ninfa’s, one of the best restaurants in Houston. – About to cut my wrist so my arm open. I’d be bleeding 808. Be bleeding Hawaii. You probably did a save. – Bleeding Mezcal or tequila.
(laughing) – Orange, tamarind, green
onion, cayanne pepper.

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