Randy Tapia has always felt at home in a kitchen.
“There’s something nostalgic I get from being in the kitchen,” he says. “It’s like my second home. I began cooking with my grandma when I was about 7 years old. I’m always learning.”
Tapia feels a sense of purpose when he creates dishes. It’s a way of bringing people together.
It’s also the reason he’s been in the food industry since he was a teenager.
Today, the Santa Fe native’s life has just gotten busier as he’s expanded his food truck – Poki Tako – into a brick-and-mortar space inside Chomp Food Hall, 505 Cerrillos Road, Suite B101, in Santa Fe. The food truck is parked at Santa Fe Antiques, 1006 Marquez Place.
“I always have ideas going through my head,” he says of his creative process. “I’m always thinking of different ingredients. As chefs, we can taste another dish and get inspired to create and put our own twist on something.”
While the 38-year-old’s culinary journey began in his grandma’s kitchen, he finds himself “forever a student.”
“I learn something new each day,” he says. “With the new Chomp space, I’m having to think of how I can balance the food truck and the new space. It’s going to take a lot of work and I have a great team.”
Since he was old enough to work, it was the kitchen that called to him.
Like many others, he started as a dishwasher and then a prep cook. During that time, he entered the culinary program at Central New Mexico Community College.
Eventually, he worked his way up to the chef position at the likes of Vintage 423, Bien Shur, El Nido and La Fonda on the Plaza.
“I’ve been cooking for 22 years,” he says. “I still haven’t gotten bored of it. I love how creative I let myself be. I just love feeding people and I’m glad I get to give joy to the community through food.”
Though Tapia’s free time is scarce, he does find time to give back to the community.
He’s often competes in the 505 Food Fights, which are held in Albuquerque.
The 505 Food Fights are put together by Albuquerque chef Mike White and it pits New Mexico chefs in a head-to-head competition.
Chefs have an hour to create two dishes featuring three of the mystery ingredients. Spectators are charged an entry fee, which then goes to a designated New Mexico charity.
In the last few years, more than 20 New Mexico charities have received more than $20,000 from 505 Food Fights. Some of the organizations include The Kitchen Kids, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, New Mexico Autism Society, New Mexico Chapter of the American Heart Association, Rebels with a Cause and Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, just to name a few.
Tapia lent his time on Nov. 12 to compete in the Behind the Mask gala in Albuquerque.
“I’ve won most of the 505 Food Fights,” he says proudly. “I didn’t win the most recent finale. I also work with Kitchen Kids in their competition and I helped the group of kids I worked with win. It’s always amazing to see the talent all around.”
Now with his two spaces for cuisine, Tapia feels like he’s in a rush for things to happen instantly.
Though the culinary world has made him wise in the fact that it takes time for everything to properly simmer.
“I’ve been using social media more to try and promote myself,” he says. “Once summer hit, I did events all over town. The weather is starting to get cold and the food truck is slowing down.”
This is the reason Tapia made the move to Chomp, which houses other restaurants.
“My goal is to remain in Santa Fe and have a restaurant of my own,” he says. “With the Chomp space, I immediately picked up new overhead. I’ve been trying to help get more exposure for Chomp to help all of the businesses out.”
Tapia is ready for another life change as he finds a new rhythm to his daily life.
He now will wake up earlier than 7 a.m. to begin the promotions for the business and his menus.
“For the food truck, I fill up the propane tank, wait for my order to arrive and start getting ready to open,” he says. “My plan is to do lunch and dinner at the food hall and then lunch on the food truck.”
Tapia says there will be a difference in menus at the two spaces.
“I won’t do hot food at the hall, which is why it’s poke bowls,” he says. “The hot food will come from the food truck.”
Coconut Ahi poke
8 ounces sashimi-grade ahi tuna
¼ cup diced sweet onion
3 tablespoons ponzu sauce
3 tablespoons toasted chopped macadamia nuts
¼ cut rehydrated wakame seaweed
1/3 cut diced fresh coconut
Dice ahi tuna into ¾-inch squares. In a medium mixing bowl add tuna, diced onion, ponzu sauce, chopped macadamia nuts, peeled and diced fresh coconut, wakame seaweed.
Mix well with spoon. Then enjoy.
(Recipe from chef Randy Tapia)
Hawaiian style poke
16 ounces sushi grade ahi tuna
4 ounces diced sweet onion
4 ounces wakame seaweed
2 ounces ponzu sauce
1 ounces sesame oil
3 ounces macadamia nuts
3 ounces fresh peeled diced coconut
Dice ahi tuna into ¾-inch squares. In a medium mixing bowl, add tuna, diced onion, ponzu sauce, chopped macadamia nuts, peeled and diced fresh coconut, wakame seaweed. Salt to taste.
Mix well with spoon. Then enjoy.
When you have all the ingredients, place in any bowl you wish – and eat!
(Recipe from Chef Randy Tapia)