On June 30, I had the honor of delivering the first annual Top Street Chef award to one of 20 contenders from Northern California, including San Jose, Oakland, Redwood City, San Mateo, San Francisco, Sacramento and Grass Valley. The award recognizes outstanding performance in creativity, innovation and quality and was determined by a people’s choice vote. Future awards may involve a combination of people’s choice, esteemed judging panel, and cooking demonstration competitions.
The first Top Street Chef title was awarded to Joseph Looza, Chef/Owner of El Matador Mobile Mex, a Mexican/Asian fusion mobile food truck in Sacramento, CA. The coveted inaugural title was awarded during the Foods4Thought.org annual fundraiser in Penn Valley, CA, where more than 3,500 attendees converged to nosh and nibble their way through 20 street food vendors over the course of six hours. Check out my story on Food Network’s Eat St.
In addition to the Top Street Chef title, the contenders competed for a $1,000 cash prize, a commemorative plaque, and a personal chef’s apron. Over the six-hour voting period, attendees sampled dishes made by the chefs, and cast their votes. Chef Joe’s winning formula at El Matador Mobile Mex snagged him nearly 30% of all votes, leaving his competition in the dust.
“I’m humbled. It was our first big festival. I was confident in our product, but I was very humbled because the award was by the actual attendees at the event,” Joe said. El Matador serves tacos, quesadillas, tortas, tostadas, burritos, and nachos with beef, pork chicken or no meat, as well as a selection of Asian fusion tacos, burritos and bowls.
Chef Joe learned his kitchen skills and cooking techniques from his father – a “closet chef,” as Joe put it. Working in the construction industry by trade, Chef Joe’s father cooked for family and friends on the weekends, and Joe was his sous chef. “I didn’t like it, as a young man,” Joe said, “but it gave me the skills I have today.”
Second and Third Place winners, VolksWaffle and FuzionEatz each received $500 and $250 cash prizes, as well. But the real winners of the day were the 3,500 guests who were fortunate to basque in the sunshine and enjoy live entertainment during their feeding frenzy.
Not only does El Matador serve some of the most creative Mexican/Asian fusion dishes we’ve tasted, his “quasi secret menu” includes accommodations for a variety of dietary needs.
“We offer an amazing meatless fajita burrito with beans, rice, grilled peppers and onions, cheese, sour cream and salsa. We also have vegetarian nachos, tacos and such. The beauty of how we do things is that if a customer comes up to us with special needs; we can pretty much accommodate them as we control the ingredients being put into their meals. We do this right on the spot,” says Chef Joe.
Chef Joe makes his salsas and Asian slaw daily from scratch; we wrote about El Matador last March. These are some very complex dishes – it’s not only about the meat. All too often do we encounter chefs who take their meat-based dishes to the highest level, but fail to deliver on the other ingredients. Chef Joe obviously makes a priority to focus on delivering the highest quality in every ingredient in his dishes.
Joe plans to keep making great food and to someday open a brick and mortar restaurant where “Taqueros” (master chefs) will prepare food table side for guests. In the meantime, you can find Chef Joe by visiting the FoodMob website.