A flash of sliver makes its way to his face and then for a moment he is staring down the ugliest mug around. Chef Abraham Nunez, of the new San Francisco restaurant Chicano Nuevo, puckers up, ready to plant one on a Alaskan salmon head, its mouth slightly agape and dead, beady eyes pointed at opposite ends of the tiny kitchen. The head has the shine and color of a new nickel.
“It’s about loving your ingredients,” says Chef Abraham. “They are the foundation to a good recipe, to a great restaurant.”
The salmon head is indeed a crucial ingredient in his consommé; a drinkable soup paired with his signature Baja-style fish tacos.
Chef Abraham learned his fish skills, among other culinary tricks, growing up in Chula Vista, making tamales with his family, and perfecting time-honored Mexican dishes like ceviche, and a sizzling casuelitas de barra of Oaxaca cheese. With a toss of chorizo and a few tortillas, Chef Abraham brings queso fundido to San Francisco, the city known for its ubiquitous burrito, but not fundamental, orthodox Mexican fare.
“I looked around and thought, ‘this is sad,’” he says.“People think they are getting authentic
Mexican food by going to a taqueria in the Mission, but most of the time, it’s Central Americans making the food, who have their own style of cuisine, with a totally different palate. Flavors get lost in migration.”
Chef Abraham opened Chicano Nuevo last October. The place is located in Bernal Heights, a neighborhood that he loves and has history with. Working as a bartender at several bars in the area while scheming up his own restaurant, Chef Abraham opened Chicano Nuevo with no investors and only a few thousand dollars fundraised.
[Record screeches from playing Los Panchos]
How the hell does that happen in San Francisco?
“It’s all about hard work and timing,” he says.
But it must also be said that an almost inhumanely amount of chutzpah never hurt either. At work, Chef Abraham is ruler and executioner, chopping away at peppers, tomatoes, and little green tomatillos for his award-winning salsas. And the salmon head? Well, it had its afternoon of love and glory, before it was unceremoniously filleted, and tossed into a large, boiling pot of mystery, its destiny sealed.