Meet Evil Cooks, The Flan Taco's Devilish Masterminds
Mercurial is a good way to describe Evil Cooks. One day, the nomadic food pop-up will serve green chorizo made from scratch, the next they might dish out dessert tacos. Founders Pobre Diablo and La Bruja, aka Alex Garcia and Elvia Huerta, reject the idea of a set menu. They're too metal for that.
"We like to innovate but there are points when people start having favorites and they ask for it, so we bring back what the people want," says Garcia.
Evil Cooks started in 2016 but not as a food business. Garcia, the chef de cuisine at Dia De Los Puercos, a Chicano kitchen that used to be in West Covina (it's now in Pomona), would spend his downtime sketching t-shirt designs. Inspired by Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and the other bands of his youth, he developed Zeke, a devilish cartoon mascot who looks remarkably like Garcia but with a goatee and horns. He imitated the Misfits font and used it to create the logo for "evil cooks."
Originally, Garcia was going to call his venture Evil Chefs but, he says, "I realized I didn't want to be a chef. 'Chef' is more about the title so I wanted to be a cook." Garcia also wanted an outlet for his art and for his food. Eventually, they became the same thing.
As a clothing brand, Evil Cooks sold shirts and hats through social media. The first shirt had their name and a cartoon chef holding a cleaver while the hats said "MAKE TACOS GREAT AGAIN."
In 2017, Huerta slid into Garcia's DMs after laughing at an image making fun of Donald Trump. More than anything, Huerta wanted to make connections in the culinary world. The two developed a professional relationship and Huerta came on board for the next phase of Evil Cooks, the actual cooking.
The first Evil Cooks food event, a four-course taco tasting held in Garcia's Azusa home, happened in May 2018. Garcia wanted to showcase a dessert taco. Huerta knew how to make flan and suggested they use a curvy, baked wafer known as a tuile for the base. "It's similar to fortune cookies," Huerta says. Garcia loved the idea but wanted to add corn masa so it was pliable, like a tortilla. The result was a hybrid tortilla, something equal parts crepe and pancake.
On top of this one-of-a-kind tortilla sits a block of flan infused with citrus, candied coconut and polvorones (Mexican cookies) that's garnished with orange peel and mint. Each bite is full of rich, velvety flan cut with a jab of citrus and crunchy bits of polvorones. And so the infernally delicious "La Bruja" -- aka the flan taco -- was born into this world.
The dish is a perfect representation of Evil Cooks, the contrast of the sweet and tart, reflecting Huerta and Garcia's personalities, in edible form.
Today, Evil Cooks pops up weekly at various locations around L.A. including Sara's Market, El Café by Primera Taza and Smorgasburg as well as at private events and catering gigs.
"I love that it's different every time, you never know what you're going to get," says Steven Valdez of Sara's Market.
Sara Valdez, his wife and the co-owner of Sara's, loves how homey the food is. "It reminds me of childhood, what we grew up eating," she says.
On Tuesday mornings, Evil Cooks shows up at Boyle Heights coffee shop El Café, usually to sell chilaquiles breakfast burritos. The carb on carb concoction is filled with chilaquiles verdes, a runny egg and placed on the plancha for a quick sear.
El Café owner ChuyTovar, who met Garcia a couple years ago at Dia De Los Puercos, describes him as "Los Angeles. A gigolo of flavors... in your face elegance. His attitude and smile have been consistent since then. I have never heard him say 'no' or 'it can't be done.'"
Zach Brooks, general manager of Smorgasburg L.A., was so impressed by the flan taco, which he calls "a plated dessert you'd find at best Mexican restaurant in the city." He offered Evil Cooks an eight-week summer residency in the Smorg's Ice Cream Alley. Starting September 7th they'll join the food incubator full time selling gorditas, chalupas, and their famous flan taco.
It's a long way from Queretaro, Mexico, where Garcia was born into a family of bakers. He spent much of his youth in the family bakery but that didn't make him love the trade. "I hate baking," he says with a laugh. "I still know how to do it. It's inevitable. It's in my blood."
When he was 14, Garcia came to the United States and settled in Long Beach. "When I got here, I wanted to be a rock star," he says, "but I started cooking out of necessity."
To help his mother pay rent, he got a job as a dishwasher. Since then, he has held several jobs in the food industry from washing dishes to making pasta and pizza. He eventually landed at Dia De Los Puercos, where he became one of the creative forces behind Chicano creations like torta de milanesa or the taco de camote (sweet potato), which he took with him to Evil Cooks.
Huerta's cooking journey wasn't as linear as Garcia's, but Evil Cooks allowed her to express ambitions. Born and raised in El Sereno, Huerta was an introverted kid with a passion for pastry. "I've always baked, since I was a kid. I started doing wedding cakes," she says.
She wanted to pursue cooking more broadly so she dropped out of school for child development and enrolled in culinary school. Since then, Huerta has spent a decade working as a cook at UCLA, where she's used to working with massive quantities. "I have the urge to cook 20 pounds of carne but I've learned to take it easy and cook in small batches," she says. Evil Cooks lets her explore the creative side of her cooking. "I've been waiting for this my whole life," she says.
As different as they are, what most inspires both Garcia and Huerta is the food of their childhoods. "We want people to taste our food and be reminded of home," Garcia says.
Take, for example, their taco de fideo. Made with queso fresco, crema, onions, salsa and fideo noodles, it's inspired by sopa de fideo, a quick tomato-based soup that's so common in Latinx households, companies sell pre-packaged versions of it, like boxes of mac and cheese.
The chemistry at Evil Cooks comes from Garcia and Huerta's opposing personalities. Huerta prides herself on planning and leaving little room for error, perhaps a remnant of her days as a baker. Vasquez prefers to cook by feel. Every time he steps up to the stove it's a jam session where he can riff on dishes and channel his rocker ambitions through cooking. The Poor Devil and The Witch are like the left and right side of the brain, working together to find harmony.
Elvia grew up going to punk and ska gigs around El Sereno. She had to miss the first Evil Cooks pop-up because she had tickets to a Depeche Mode concert. Garcia completely understood. Growing up in a bakery, Garcia's family played rock while they worked. As a teenager, his wardrobe was almost entirely black and he had a face full of piercings, emblems of the roquero lifestyle.
"We always play music when we're prepping," Huerta says. "The whole thing is [about] being rock stars." Even their van is a 1989 Dodge Ram, the vehicle that many bands used to tour in. It's black, of course, with the Evil Cooks logo and an image of Zeke painted on the side.
When asked if they identify as rock stars, Garcia flashes a diabolical grin and says, "I'm a fucking rocker."
Huerta has a different take. "It's just the music I listen to," she says, "I don't identify as anything."
For Evil Cooks, every pop-up is a stage and you never know which hit they're going to play next, but you can bet it'll be good.