2016 South Florida Rising Star Artisan Steve Santana of Taquiza

2016 South Florida Rising Star Artisan Steve Santana of Taquiza
April 2016

Taquiza
1506 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
www.taquizamiami.com

Recipe

Photos

Steve Santana is a web developer turned chef and artisan thanks to a fateful encounter with gastroPod Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog. In 2009, Santana’s firm hosted the first installation of Miami’s Cobaya underground dining club, for which Bullfrog was the featured chef. Having struck up a friendship, Bullfrog took Santana to StarChefs’ International Chefs Congress, and the coder found himself falling for the world of cuisine. Four years later, Santana had given up everything he’d worked toward for 12 years and shifted gears to follow his heart.

Alongside Bullfrog, he cooked at gastroPod and then The Freehand’s Broken Shaker, eventually taking over the bar’s kitchen. He then joined Giorgio Rapicavoli’s team at Eating House in Coral Gables. Before long, Santana was known more for his cooking prowess than his computer skills, and he was approached by a building owner who wanted to install a taco spot with house-made tortillas.

Taquiza was born, and its tortillas—made from flavor-packed, house-nixtalamized heirloom corn—are the best in Miami. Beyond supplying Taquiza with a base for its tacos and totopos, Santana sells his tortillas to other restaurants, a strategy that’s spreading the gospel of fresh masa and enabling Santana to expand his business through a soon-to-launch commissary. Santana is a leader in Miami’s fledgling artisan community, adding depth to the market and influencing tastes through time-honored techniques. 

 



Interview with South Florida Rising Star Artisan Steve Santana of Taquiza

Lisa Elbert: How did you get your start?
Steve Santana:
I was a web developer for 12 years, and good friends with Jeremiah [Bullfrog]. At my agency, we hosted an underground dinner, and Jeremiah did the first one. I hosted it in my office, and then he took me to my first StarChefs International Chefs Congress. It was my first exposure to that world, and I went back with a buddy in 2012. Then I quit my job and transitioned into what I’m doing now. I went to culinary school for a couple semesters for fun, but I was still programing. Eventually, I did a lot of internet research and read a few books. The first I even heard about nixtamalizing was through Dave Arnold. I used that as a jumping off point, but the rest was trial and error.

LE: Who’s your mentor?
SS:
Jeremiah is my primary mentor. There are other people that have helped me, but he’s the guy who pushed me. We still hang out; we still do events together. He helped me open up here. Our relationship is still ongoing.

LE: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
SS:
I’m pretty involved. There’s a whole group of us chefs. Alex [Chang] from Vagabond buys masa from me. Giorgio [Rapicavoli] has some of my product for his lunch tacos. We all hang out and do events together. We’re very collaborative. There’s no sense of competition. We hang out on a daily basis and bounce ideas off each other. It’s a small scene, so we all help each other out and try to help the city come up. That’s why we all source Panther Coffee or Zak the Baker or my masa.

LE: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
SS:
Day to day, everything is fresh. And we do it every day, so it’s tough keeping up with everything. There’s not a ton of space, so we can’t prep a whole lot. So, every day is a grind. 

LE: What’s your five-year plan?
SS:
It’s a little early to say. In the next few months and opening a beer garden a few blocks away. We’ll curate all the beer and have food like the corn nuts as bar snacks. And in the back is a courtyard area, and we’re doing a hot dog concept. It will be the same way we do things here: everything from scratch, in house, our own blends, etc. It’s harder, but it’s worth it. We’re just starting to talk to people about spaces to open another Taquiza, but that will be next year. Our wholesale is growing. We’re working on building out a space dedicated just to wholesaling tortillas.