Interview with South Florida Rising Star Artisan Steve Santana of Taquiza

by Lisa Elbert
April 2016

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.