If you love tacos, you might just love Jaime Diaz. He's the man behind the tacos and Mexican-inspired fare at 1-year-old TacoCraft in Himmarhsee Village. (New Times named his place Best Taco" in 2015.)
Diaz grew up in Mexico but spent a lot of time in Southern California during his formative years. A self-trained cook, he began to gain experience at a young age, what he says is "practically a lifetime of working in the restaurant industry."
Prior to TacoCraft, Diaz cooked for the likes of Boca Raton's Grand Lux Café and YOLO in Fort Lauderdale. Today, you won't find this self-made chef making tacos at home, however. Instead, you'll find him making meat-free orange chicken for his girlfriend, a longtime vegan. That explains why those kale vegetarian tacos (braised kale, roasted potato hash, refried beans, avocado, and cilantro lime crema) at TacoCraft are so darned delicious.
Name: Jaime Diaz
Hometown: Michoacán, Mexico
New Times: What inspired you to begin cooking professionally?
Diaz: I was the oldest kid in a big family, so I always tried to help out where I could in the kitchen. The more I did that and the more time I spent working in the industry later on, the more it became a passion. I believe a cook isn’t made but rather born.
What’s the first important meal or dish you remember making?
Ceviche is definitely the most important dish I have made because it was the first thing I ever cooked for my girlfriend. I’m convinced that’s what made her stick around.
What do you cook for yourself when there’s no one to impress?
I love to cook a vegan alternative of orange chicken. My girlfriend has been a vegan for 20 years, so when we started dating, I took on the challenge of learning how to cook vegan dishes. There’s a restaurant we used to eat at in North Miami that had an orange chicken dish that she loved, so I learned to make it at home for her. When dining out, one of our favorite places to go is Sublime in Fort Lauderdale.
What’s your favorite dish on the TacoCraft menu right now?
I love the Street Corn. It reminds me of going to the markets in Mexico with my mom when I was young. She would buy it for me from the street vendors, and it always brings back special memories of days I spent with her as a child.
Do you have a favorite dish at another restaurant?
I really enjoy Jambalaya from the Cheesecake Factory because of the spiciness and the complexity of the dish. Believe it or not, it's good.
What's in store for your next menu?
We work with grocers to create a refreshing menu based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. I’m very excited to create dishes that are inspired by the foods I grew up with in my hometown in Michoacán.
What's your favorite after-hours drinking spot?
I like any of the spots along Second Street in Himmarshee Village. On Sunday people from the industry gather there to grab a drink and a bite to eat, so it's a great opportunity to hang out with colleagues outside of work. One of our favorite place to go after work is Apothecary 330.
What would you like to see change in the South Florida food scene?
I would like to see people become more open to new ideas and new foods. Food is an eye-opening way for people to expose themselves to other cultures and experience different things. I think we are going to see much cleaner, simpler foods, like our moms and grandmothers made.
If you could have your own establishment, what would you name it, and what would the concept be?
I would name it Red Dog after my dog that passed away. I adopted him, but he was with me for 16 years, and he really helped turn my life around and taught me to see things from a different perspective.
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Name one kitchen tool you could not live without?
Kitchen towels, because you use them everywhere, from the expo line to the dish room. Believe it or not, seeing how someone uses a kitchen towel says a lot about someone's personality and their work ethic.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming chefs trying to break into the biz?
This is a very challenging industry. You need to be willing to start at the bottom, listen, learn, and work hard to achieve success.
TacoCraft is located at 204 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-463-2003, or visit tacocraft.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.