Guatemalan Chef And Tu Y Yo Co-Owner Follows Mexican Culinary Tradition
Adolfo Alvarado believes that chosen families can be just as strong as those bound by blood, and it's in the kitchen that any cultural barriers fall away.
Adolfo Alvarado isn’t Mexican, but his professional life has revolved around Mexican food since he was 20 years old. He was one of the 10 restaurateurs whose food was featured at the YUM fundraiser on April 6, which supported the work of The Welcome Project. The seventh annual fundraiser coincided with the 30th anniversary of Somerville’s sanctuary city status, and The Welcome Project’s existence.
Adolfo Alvarado is from Guatemala, so his co-ownership of the Mexican restaurant Tu Y Yo isn’t due to direct cultural roots. But chosen families can be just as strong as those bound by blood, and it is here, in the kitchen, that any cultural barriers fall away.
“This restaurant is family,” Alvarado said. “Everybody is cooking here.”
Tonight, Alvarado served up enchiladas and quesadillas, alongside his older son, Ricardo.
Both enchiladas and quesadillas are staples Alvarado learned to make in the kitchen, when he first got a job in a Boston restaurant more than two decades ago. He was just 20 years old – “very young.”
“He loves to cook. He didn’t know that until he started working in a restaurant,” co-owner Doris Gutierrez said. The Colombian native helped interpret for Alvarado.
“He has it in his hands,” she continued, holding up her own two hands and rubbing her thumbs across the pads of her fingers.
But Alvarado wasn’t a food prodigy. He admitted he had to work hard when he first stepped into the restaurant all those years ago. With a laugh, Guitierrez concurred – “Oh, yeah.”
“When he started working, one of the owners was in charge of the kitchen. He started washing dishes,” Gutierrez said. “The owner liked him so much he said, ‘Okay, I am going to teach him.’ So he did, without [Alvarado] realizing that’s what he was doing. He was very good with him. And [Alvarado] became his right hand.”
Now, 25 years later, the passion for working with his hands is something Alvarado is passing on to his two sons. He teaches the pair how to cook both at home, and in the restaurant. Not only is Mexican food Alvarado’s preferred creative culinary medium, but the boys’ mother is Mexican. In this way, Alvarado said, he is helping to pass down the boys’ Mexican heritage.
While the boys have learned to make a variety of dishes, like tamales for Christmas, or chicken dishes for get-togethers, their favorite Mexican dish to make with Alvarado is enchiladas. But it isn’t the flavors of the dish that make enchiladas the boys’ favorite dish to cook with their father.
“They like putting it all together. They like all the work – spending more time together,” Alvarado said of the bonding activity.
There is quite a bit of hands-on work that goes into enchiladas. There is chicken to cook, and then finely shred. There is sauce, made from scratch, which usually takes an hour or more on its own. There are tortillas to griddle, fill, and top with cheese and other garnishes. All told, the process can take more than an hour.
And, of course, there’s the time spent enjoying the meal together.