Jose Angel Arias of the Mexican state of Tabasco, serves a tamale of fish and maize.
Jose Angel Arias of the Mexican state of Tabasco, serves a tamale of fish and maize. - 
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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Go behind the kitchen door of some of the fanciest restaurants in America and you are likely to hear Spanish. For generations Latinos have been the backbone of the food service industry. But there have been few Hispanic-American top chefs.

Well that's about to change. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports.

David Martin Davies: Lots of finer restaurants are closed on Mondays, but not La Gloria. This trendy Mexican restaurant overlooking the San Antonio Riverwalk is packed. Johnny Hernandez is the chef and owner.

Johnny Hernandez: Let's look at what coming out the window. These are sopes.

A sope is a thick corn tortilla, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and slathered with shredded meat and Mexican sauces. It's a Mexican street food that could be the next big thing in America.

Hernandez: It's a cuisine that's in its infancy here in the United States.

Hernandez is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. It was a long journey from growing up chopping onions at his family's cafeteria to owning his own place.

David Kellaway: Yeah, Johnny has done it right.

David Kellaway is the director of the institute's new San Antonio campus.

Kellaway: The way Johnny has pursued his path has undoubtedly given him a far more substantial tool bag to acquire his dreams.

But, turning dreams into reality takes money, and for many, cooking school is too expensive. Not anymore.

Billionaire Kit Goldsbury made a fortune off of Pace Picante sauce. He's given the institute $35 million and that made the San Antonio campus -- and scholarships -- possible. He says it's time for Mexican cuisine to be as appreciated as the cuisines of Italy or France.

Kit Goldsbury: I started realizing that most of the kitchens in the country were staffed by Latinos but you didn't see a lot of the chefs rising to the top of the great chefs that you hear about around the world.

And there's another magic ingredient that could help launch Mexican food in the United States in a big way. Latinos now represent the second largest consumer market in America. Currently, one of every six U.S. residents is Latino. That's 50 million people. And likely to mean longer lines at restaurants like La Gloria's.

In San Antonio, I'm David Martin Davies for Marketplace.