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The Bend Magazine

A Conversation with A.J. “Blanco Biggs” Brooks-Ruiz

10/31/2020 05:00AM ● By Kylie Cooper
Conversation By: Kylie Cooper   Photos By: Lillian Reitz

KC: First, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ultimately decided to become a chef.

BB: I was born into the love of and for food and the creative process behind it. My Mama Grande (Big Grandma) was a well-known caterer, also known as the Tamale Diva, Cookie Lady, and Pioneer of the Sandwichon in The Valley. Aside from that, every Sunday all my tios, tias, primos, and familia would meet up for breakfast, dinner, cookouts, and games of Chalupa (Loteria).

Most people will probably recognize you from your time with Artesano and the innovative dishes you created there. What does your creative process look like when it comes to food?

It's pretty simple, yet awfully complicated. I take something familiar such as tacos or quesadillas and try to create new connections, paying homage to the originators and the humility behind what they created. Breathing new life into the ideas while keeping the same essence going.

What is one of your fondest memories when it comes to food?

The amazing, irreplaceable feeling of waking up to the smell of fresh tortillas and the many aromatics that fill the air at my abuelita’s house. It’s when I started making the connection of scents and flavors.

Your heritage and culture are deeply intertwined into the food you create. Would you say that is the cornerstone behind your cooking and if so, why?

Oh, most definitely! I am the proud son, grandson, and great-grandson of Mexican immigrants, and the member of a proud Mexican-American familia. That entails so much. From religious beliefs [to] family values, humility, fellowship, cooking, community, and generosity, it all has helped shape and mold so much of what I do and the person that I have become.

You recently were approached to participate in a "share a meal" initiative with the Ronald McDonald House. Not only did you prepare meals on your day off, but you gave them the meals at no cost. Tell me about that experience and why giving back to the community in such a way is important to you. 

My upbringing had so many great examples of hard work, dedication, humility, and generosity. I cannot ask to be blessed if I do not bless others or see others blessed first. It was a great honor and opportunity to be asked to help and, in a sense, have them at my table. It is such a great feeling! 

Now that you're no longer with Artesano, how can people still get their hands on your food?

I am currently in the process of looking for a commissary kitchen to do meals and catering. I'm starting from zero once again, so it may take some time, but I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to creating a new dish?

All I want is for those I serve to taste the passion, modesty, love, respect, and influence I have for my cultura, upbringing, and creations. To hear something familiar in terms of what it is called, somewhat unfamiliar in how it looks, but connecting them to something through how it smells and tastes.

Plans for the future?

Well the future is looking bright. My family and crew made genuine connections with the people we met and served when at Artesano. They could taste the love and humility in the food and service they were provided and it will be the cornerstone at my next venture: Taco Libre the Food Truck. The real flavor is in the culture, not a recipe, and you can taste it. God is great and he’s opened new doors. Everything is in the works to make this happen so be on the lookout. Same family, same crew, same passion. We want to earn your business, we don’t expect it. I’ve partnered up with another locally-owned staple of Corpus Christi, Murdy’s Public, where there will be outdoor covered seating or the option to take food to-go. 

What is your go-to taco order?

My to-go taco order consists of homemade corn tortillas with barbacoa, topped with an over-easy egg, onions, cilantro, sliced avocado, queso fresco, and an awesome salsa verde.