By Miguel Juárez, PhD
In his cooking show promo, Chef Raul Gonzalez, who is better known by his clientele as Chef Rulis states:
Welcome to the Chuco Cooking Show. You’re invited to go on a culinary journey covering 600 years of regional cuisine. You’ll hear stories about the cultures that settled these lands and we’ll meet the people that are growing our food. And of course, most importantly, we’ll put it all together into a unique dish. So to get on this trip, give me a like and hit the subscribe button. Thanks and cheers!
“The Chuco Cooking Show” popped up on my Facebook feed several weeks ago, when the show’s social media was launched. The show joins other efforts like University of Texas at El Paso’s Dr. Meredith Abarca’s excellent El Paso Food Voices Podcast which focuses on regional food.
The series is a project of Chef Rulis of Ruli’s International Kitchen. In his program, Chef Rulis features ingredients from the borderlands. He tells the stories behind the ingredients, then goes into his kitchen and cooks up a dish which will get your taste buds jumping. I reached out to Chef Rulis to interview him about his series.
Chef Rulis was born in El Paso and majored in finance. After graduating from UTEP, he worked as a wealth manager for Wells Fargo private client services, and he also worked as a BP of Investments for a Swiss bank which took him to Houston. Chef Rulis lived in Houston for four years where he was influenced by its cuisine, but he started cooking as a teenager. When he was 15-years-old, his father Raul Gonzalez Sr., coaxed him into making Sushi rolls for him at home, although Chef Rulis said his mother Haydee, is an excellent cook.
In Houston, Chef Rulis had a corporate job and he was inspired by the foods from many nationalities in the city — Venezuelan, Colombian, Indian restaurants (both North Indian and South Indian) and by African cuisine. He said his experience in Houston led him to quit his corporate job and move back to El Paso with the intent of opening his own restaurant.
Chef Rulis said he worked his way up. He started as a dishwasher, moved up to a prep cook, then became a line cook then worked in the kitchen, and with his experience in finance and customer relations, he eventually opened his restaurant.
El Paso, Texas is often referred to as “El Chuco” and Chef Rulis said naming the show was a natural choice. He said he also cooks “Chuco” cuisine. He defines Pachuco or “Chuco” as an art form in a lifestyle which both Los Angeles and El Paso claim. He also said that “Chuco” represents a certain attitude, but also a term of endearment. He uses the term Chuco in his menu, such as his Chuco Cheese Steak, which he says is his favorite item on his menu. He said he felt the name sounded fun, so it was natural that it became the name for his cooking show.
Regarding his cooking, Chef Rulis stated that when he is creating he doesn’t use recipes, but instead goes into a State of Zen and before he knows it, he has created a dish. He said he often experiments with different ingredients.
Opening a restaurant in the middle of a recession and now operating in a middle of a pandemic
Chef Rulis said he opened his first restaurant in 2008 in the middle of a recession and today he is in the middle of a pandemic, but he said since then he has a learned a few things and he and his staff have adjusted to the situation. While having some down time, he knew he wanted to do something different and that something different resulted in “The Chuco Cooking Show.”
In creating the show, he said he wanted to reach a wider audience and bring to life all the interesting stories he has heard from his customers. He initially began working on a book on those stories but then realized that a series would be quicker and would reach more people. He said he plans to write a book, but said “video provides an immediacy with an audience, where he can collaborate with a videographer, who is an artist in his craft.”
But producing videos for Chef Rulis is not something new. In 2008, he began creating videos when one of his social media partners asked him to produce a feature on the restaurant. In the process of filming his video, he was introduced to videographer Alex Carrizal. Working with Alex has facilitated the creation of his show. Chef Rulis stated:
I can’t take you know the credit for it alone because without Alex it would not look as pretty as it does right and it’s his creativity behind the camera and he makes it look so nice. I was really stoked and then it became the right time to do this. I want to tell these stories because so many people really so many people have told me you need to tell these stories everybody needs to hear these stories and. And so now it’s like okay, well let’s let’s tell these stories. I found the person that can help me. I’m excited about all the all the episodes that are coming. It’s been a fun process.
I asked Chef Rulis what he saw as the difference was between programs on the Food Channel that feature similar topics in comparison to what he was producing and he said his series is based on our region and our proximity to New Mexico. He talked about an experience he had filming by the Rio Grande. He said took his daughter on that shoot on the banks of the Rio Grande and she didn’t even know the river was there. In the Chuco Cooking Show, time and place merge to showcase the rich regional agricultural history of our region and the rich cuisines produced here.
Two of of the first segments in the cooking show feature interviews with mushroom growers. Chef Rulis states that when you see these growers it makes him feel great that there is a new generation of entrepreneurs making a difference in the region. Chef Ruli’s efforts to support area growers also supports his interest to grow sustainable agriculture, as well as reduce the carbon footprint. He uses Walmart as an example of a big box store that ships its produce from thousands of miles away, while he instead purchases his produce from local growers which changes the idea of using fresh, locally grown products. Chef Ruli’s aim is to support local growers. He and other restaurants area also on a mission to make local food accessible for people so they can stay healthy. He recently participated in the El Paso Diabetes Association’s Five Nights of Flavorful Cuisines.
When asked how he generates his ideas for the various episodes, he said he has a lot of stories from the last eight years of operating his restaurants. He said he has always thought about food in a fusion form which utilizes native American food married with Pre-hispanic foods, as well as with Middle East food. He said the fusion comes about by combining world influences into the food he cooks.
In Episode #3 of the Chuco Cooking Show Chef Rulis visits Keystone Heritage Park at 4220 Doniphan in West El Paso. With Mike Gaglio, Wetlands & Hydrology Advisor at Keystone Heritage Park, he forges plants at the park and discovers that they are flavors similar to other foods like Tamarind.
Chef Rulis says he’s at peace doing what he does. He still gets excited about cooking and the videos are his way of getting the word out to more people. He also wants more people to be proud of our city. He said when he was growing up so many of my friends couldn’t wait to leave El Paso. They would say, “When I graduate, I’m getting the hell out of here.” Chef Rulis commented that once they traveled to different areas they realized El Paso is not that bad after all.
Chef Rulis said he was lucky enough to travel. He lived in Houston but also spent a lot of time in Mexico. He has his career and worked in private banking. He was able to see different things in other places and he believes El Paso is a great place which has a lot of history behind it and is becoming a much better place.
He believes that El Paso should be bringing tourists for what El Paso represents right now and that we should not try to become like Austin or Dallas, because we have our own flavor and our own culture. He stated “El Paso is unique and we’re never going to be like Austin because Austin’s not on the border.”
Chef Rulis states that being on the border gives you a different perspective and that in addition to the attractions such as the Mission Trail, the Tigua Reservations and for the Franklin Mountains, people can also come to El Paso for the food and the diversity of the local cuisine. He believes it’s important to get people to eat local and learn about the locality of their food.
I asked Chef Rulis about opening his Grab-n-Go market which he opened inside his restaurant Ruli’s International Kitchen and he said due to the pandemic, his restaurant went from 26 down to 8 tables, so there was a lot of space left that was unused so he turned it into a food market with two cold cases. The market showcases produce, local ingredients, as well as local products from area food and beverage businesses, like teas from The Tea Spout, which recently went online several months ago.
Chef Rulis said he plans to sell boxes with ingredients that he will feature in Facebook Live demonstrations. The demonstrations will show people how to cook simple recipes that won’t require special equipment. The recipes will be able to be prepped, cooked and ready to serve within the hour and again if people want to suggest something that they want to see done, he will do it. He said he wants to continue telling stories based on history and at the same time, have people cook simple delicious dishes.
Chef Rulis states that he believes the reason his restaurant is still here is simply because of the wonderful community of loyal customers who keep coming back despite the pandemic or other circumstances. He believes that if his customers didn’t want him to be here, they wouldn’t come. At El Paso News, we believe Chef Rulis is on the right track and we applaud his efforts and the creation of The Chuco Cooking Show.
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