Cover Story: Mama Fina's Tacos Offers A Second Helping On “Gentefied” – L.A. Weekly
Netflix’s frisky dramedy Gentefied returns for its second season this week in a more raw and poetic form
Season one of Gentefied – the love letter executive producer America Ferrera and creators Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez wrote to the Latinx and Boyle Heights communities – explored the toll of family separation, Brown love and joy in the face of adversity. Things are going to get a lot steamier both inside and outside of the kitchen in season two, with storylines that will satisfy any grownup telenovela fan.
In the new season, which premieres this week, the Morales cousins fight alongside their widowed grandfather Pop in his battle to stay in the country, all while dealing with new love, new babies, estranged fathers and the potential loss of Mama Fina’s taco shop in Boyle Heights. Using humor, the smartly written show explores gentrification and the conflict between generations and cultures with a keen eye on the struggles of keeping a restaurant alive.
“We deal with real-life issues that can sometimes be super heavy, but we also experience joy and humor and love,” Ferrera tells L.A. Weekly at BLVD MRKT in Montebello, celebrating the debut of the second season. “I love that our community is portrayed with such style and life and vitality. That’s something the Latinx community doesn’t always get to have in its portrayal. It’s often just those same grim stories being told over and over again. It’s an opportunity to see ourselves represented in much more complex and joyful humanity. We’re not stripping away what’s real and what’s hard. It’s an opportunity to be seen in a different way.”
Conceived originally as a digital series by Lemus and Chávez during many hours spent at Primera Taza Coffee House on 1st Street, the story revolves around the three Morales cousins and Pop, who struggles to keep Mama Fina’s taco shop alive. Located on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Townsend Ave. in East L.A., where you’ll find La Ronda Restaurant, the powerful taco is at the center of all the family drama and dynamics.
Chris (played by Carlos Santos) is an aspiring chef with a business degree and dreams of attending culinary school in France and Ana (Karrie Martin Lachney) is a queer artist with aspirations of her own that include convincing the traditional community to accept her sexuality and relationship with Afro Latina Yessika Castillo (Julissa Calderon). Cousin Erik (Joseph Julian Soria) finds himself somewhere in between the past and the future while balancing a chip on his shoulder with the impending birth of his child with Lidia Solis (Annie Gonzalez).
Carlos Santos and Ivana Rojas heat things up in season two of Gentefied. (Courtesy Netflix)
Series breakout star Santos plays an ambitious chef who is at the mercy of a Gordon Ramsay-type boss in a trendy arts district kitchen filled with a Latin staff that doesn’t find him Mexican enough. The character bears a sexy and uncanny resemblance to chef Mario Christerna, the charismatic Boyle Heights native who helped launch Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co., breathing new life into the community.
“I’ve worked in the restaurant industry before,” the Second City-trained stand-up comedian tells L.A. Weekly. “Once you’ve had that experience you never forget it and it’s easy to tap into it. This show is the first chance I’ve had to showcase my acting ability in a leading role and the creators allow me to play with it and improvise. That’s where the comedy comes from. Sometimes people work too hard to be funny. We deal with serious subjects, so it’s a delicate dance with humor.”
All joking aside, Lemus admits that while the second season premiering this week will still find humor in those realistic problems, it will be a more emotionally raw and mature look at familia Morales.
Karrie Martin Lachney as Ana Morales, Julissa Claderon as Yessika Castillo and Annie Gonzales as Lidia Solis in GENTEFIELD.) Devyn Galindo/Netflix © 2021)
“The show is incredibly personal,” says Lemus, who grew up in Bakersfield. “Linda and I write from the heart and we try to capture our community in a way that we haven’t seen before. We pull from all parts of our lives and write very truthfully and honestly. Chris is very much me. We chose Boyle Heights because it’s unique to gentrification and has such a rich history of activism. The term gentefication was coined in Boyle Heights and is an issue that has affected that community. It’s not just struggles from outsiders, but struggles within the community itself. We don’t pick sides. How do you continue to build and thrive without forgetting about the working class and those most at risk? This community is the perfect intersection for those questions we’ve been asking ourselves. It’s a place that captures both of my identities, as a Mexican and an American at the same time. I always feel like either one or the other. I wanted to create a show with that same feeling.”
Season two opens with the aging but fierce patriarch played by Joaquín Cosío being released from three months in jail for a minor infraction, facing deportation and becoming a media sensation which only results in more inter-family and intergenerational drama. Ana, who always means well, once again proves that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
“Ana is queer and her queer identity is not always supported and accepted,” says Ferrera, who was born in East L.A., grew up in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from USC. “None of us are purely one identity, we are this confluence and sometimes those things conflict. Yes, you’re there for your community and your cultural roots, but sometimes your roots are there for the other parts of your identity. As first-generation Latinx kids of immigrants, we have the experience of living with gentrification from the inside out – WE are gentrified. Our parents came to this country and in a lot of ways set us on the track of gentrifying from within. How do we assimilate but also maintain our roots? How do we aspire for something bigger without losing what we were? For us, this show is about the love this family has for each other, and who can’t relate to that? Who doesn’t have a crazy family that you love and hate at the same time?”
Mama Fina’s Elevated Tacos: ***** (Five stars)
GENTEFIELD. (L to R) Carlos Santos as Chris Morales, Joaquín Cosio as Casimiro “Pop” Morales and Joseph Julian Soria as Erik Morales . (Devyn Galindo/Netflix © 2021)
If there’s a gentrification whisperer in East Los Angeles, it’s Barney Santos, who founded BLVD MRKT with his wife Evelyn in the heart of downtown Montebello on Whittier Blvd. in an old carpet store space. An outdoor artisan food hall made up of decorative shipping container kitchens, their mission is to promote community and economic development. In addition to vendors like Pez Cantina, Cafe Santos, Los Taquero Mucho, NOLA Cajun & Creole as well as Alchemy Craft beer and wine, the couple has created an incubator program to help aspiring restaurateurs over the course of 24-28 months accelerate the growth of their part-time businesses. BLVD MRKT provides incubated companies with a fully-equipped shared kitchen in the food hall and access to capital, mentors, coaching and other resources to help launch their own businesses.
“We live here and saw a need to rejuvenate the downtown area which was crumbling and in complete disarray with broken windows and empty storefronts around 2008,” Barney says in between taco bites at the “Taste of the Blvd” cast party last week. “We partnered with the city of Montebello and took over this city-owned lot. It’s hard. Most developers don’t want to invest in these communities, they just want to follow their formulas. One thing I know is that communities evolve on their own. We’re trying to bring economic development to our neighborhood and we’re working with the Cesar Chavez Foundation to bring affordable housing across the street. There are so many great organizations out there willing to help. I just want to create a platform for other people to express themselves using this space.”
The “Taste of the Blvd” continues at BLVD MRKT at 6 p.m Friday, November 12 on “Gentefied Night” where the food hall will cover the cost of one of the Gentefied inspired dishes at the restaurants while supplies last.
The lineup includes:
From Pez Cantina:
“Fish out of Water” – Albacore tuna tostada, avocado crema, fennel, red onion, crispy shallots and Baja ponzu sauce. “It’s based on Erik’s feeling like a fish out of water at Stanford,” says owner and chef Bret Thompson, who also owns the flagship Pez Cantina in downtown L.A. with wife Lucy and is co-founder of Milk Ice Cream.
“Fish out of Water” from Pez Cantina (Gabriel Carbajal for 622 Productions/Fixè Group)
From Cafe Santo:
“Piel Canela Latte” – The Morales family inspired us to honor our ancestors by adding a traditional drink to our menu. For us, coffee represents familia, amor, y unidad. Café Santo’s Piel Canela latte is inspired by the good times spent with our loved ones “chismeando” over a Cafecito before bedtime. Made with ingredients that are part of our essence, this drink contains ingredients like cinnamon, which gives the flavor and spice that we as Latinos put in everything we do; sugar cane, which adds the sweetness of family gatherings; orange peel, which brings the zest into our life; and anise, which symbolizes the importance of preserving our culture.
From Los Taquero Mucho:
“Mama Fina’s Legacy” – Chicharron con carne topped with a mild Pico de Gallo Curtido, drizzled with mango chipotle sauce and then topped with queso cotija, cilantro and dabs of avocado salsa.
We decided to call it the Mama Fina’s legacy because in the show Casimiro and Chris are determined to make sure Mama Fina’s legacy continues. Casimiro strives to protect the power of the family, their love for food, their differences, their complexities, the traditions and their layers of love for each other. Chris wants to build on her legacy and expand on traditions all while still keeping true to his roots. It’s two generations pushing to keep a family’s legacy alive. We created a traditional taco de Chicharrón and have expanded on it by including our family’s culture.
The taco de Chicharrón is topped with a pico de gallo Curtido which is a combination of Mexican and Guatemalan traditions. We then expanded on it with the mango chipotle drizzle. We wanted to incorporate our roots and also want to make sure our family’s roots and legacies continue throughout our generations to come. Just as Chris and Casimiro push to make sure Mama Fina’s legacy continues, we want to make sure our family’s legacy continues to honor our parents who took this risk of coming to this country to allow us to have the opportunity of a better life.
“Mama Fina’s Legacy” from Los Taquero Mucho ( Gabriel Carbajal for 622 Productions/Fixè Group)
From NOLA Cajun & Creole:
Los Nietos Jambalaya – mildly spiced mixed rice, bell pepper, onion, celery and NOLA Creole sauce served with shrimp and pork delicacies. Jambalaya is a Louisiana-born dish that has its origins in historical influences from France and Spain. Traditionally, the dish includes a large mix of amazing complex flavors including sausage of some sort, often smoked meat such as pork andouille, along with chicken and seafood, such as shrimp. The vegetables are usually a mixture known as the “holy trinity” in Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery and green bell pepper. This rich and complex explosion of flavors reminds us of Pop’s grandchildren.
Chris, Erik and Ana themselves are the “Holy Trinity” of Pop’s grandkids. Together they make for such a rich and complex explosion of emotion and love for one another. This dynamic makes for such a rich experience in the show. The show’s characters struggle to find their own individual identities separate from Pop’s and Mama Fina’s but what they realize is that, just like Jambalaya, they make such a rich, beautiful and loving experience together. Essentially creating something bigger and better when together than when separate.
Our “Mushroom Trip” pupusas are inspired by the episode when Crazy Dave takes Chris and Erik camping to find themselves and eat lots of shrooms. It’s a mix of different types of mushrooms blended with vegan cheeses.
Los Nietos Jambalaya from NOLA Cajun & Creole ( Gabriel Carbajal for 622 Productions/Fixè Group)
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