Editor’s Note: This interview with Belia Jimenez was conducted by Tulane student, Camila Rodriguez as a part of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s New Orleans con Sabor Latino exhibit. This exhibit was the result of a joint effort by Tulane University, SoFaB, and community partners.
In Dr. Sarah Fouts’ interdisplinary seminar, Food, Migration, & Culture, Tulane students worked with Latino members of the New Orleans food industry to create a series of oral histories exploring the role of Latin culture in our city’s restaurant scene. With stories ranging from famous restauranteurs to line cooks, New Orleans con Sabor Latino demonstrates the diversity of experience within this community, as well as their vital contributions to the Big Easy.
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Originally hailing from Mexico, local chef Belia Jimenez explains the influence that New Orleans’ blended Latin culture has had on her cooking and her menu.
Together, Jimenez and her husband own Los Paisanos Restaurant in Broadmoor. Their menu centers on traditional Mexican fare like tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, but bears traces of other Latin American cuisines, like Honduran and Salvadoran, in dishes such as pupusas, baleadas, and tostadas. Here is what Belia had to say about the beginning and the future of Los Paisanos.
“Hello I am Belia Jiménez, we are in Los Paisanos on 3911 Washington Avenue. We began with a quick-lunch spot, with a ‘taco truck’ as they call them, selling food to the workers who came after Katrina for the reconstruction and then we moved to a restaurant and from there we’ve been advancing, thank God.
I’ve tried many jobs but I always end up coming back – cooking and cooking and cooking…It’s something that you bring in you, you bring the seasoning, the flavors, and we’re in a place that’s far from Mexico and so it’s always good…so others get to know the traditional flavors of your…hometown. We have a lot of spices, we have a lot of seasoning added to our meats, burritos, almost all of that Mexican cooking style, but we also try to include other cultures like the Honduran, the Salvadorian, since here there is a plentiful of everything…
The ones who come more frequently are Latino clients, they prefer dishes that have the basics like rice, beans, tortillas, but we also have a lot of American clients, they, like I was telling you, prefer the burritos, the tacos…I like the burritos! Because well, they sell the most, maybe because they’re a bit larger and they have more ingredients and well you’re able to incorporate the ingredients you most enjoy..…and I like it, I love it, I love to cook.
Well look, basically I would steal the ingredients from my house and since we didn’t have much my mom was always scolding me and she would tell me [mimicking mother] ‘it’s because you’re always wasting everything!’ or ‘these things don’t work!’ and well now that I know how to cook, since I’ve always loved to cook, she tells me ‘Oy I never thought you were going to be a chef until now”…but I don’t know I simply try to give my best effort.
So come and get to know our place, get to know our food…and well to get to know this and have an opportunity to come, to visit, to see our place and see…a small piece of Mexico in New Orleans.”
Special thanks to the Tulane University Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, and the Tulane University Center for Public Service for their assistance and support of this project.