Growing up in the tiny town of Clayton, N.M., near the borders of Texas and Colorado, Josh Vigil gained a love for northern New Mexican cuisine prepared by his mother.
Now, he has brought his love for northern New Mexican cooking to the people of Lovington and Lea County as part of the Lovington MainStreet Local Innovators Institute food truck program, located on the square in Lovington in front of the Lea Theater.
“This is food we grew up on. A lot of these recipes were handed down from generation to generation because big families had to learn to make food stretch, and make it taste good,” Vigil said. “It’s very intertwined with native cultures and the Hispanic settlements. There’s a lot of history there.”
While there are subtle differences in what constitutes northern and southern New Mexican food, Vigil said the differences aren’t overwhelming, and aren’t so different as to make them unrecognizable.
“It’s real unique to that area (northern New Mexico). You don’t find it down here. Down here it’s Tex-Mex or it’s straight Mexican food,” he said. “Our food is different, but it’s not so far off different that it’s unusual. Because, we have sopapillas, people understand chilis and sauces. We just kind of take theses things that people here don’t normally put together and we put together, and it tastes good.”
And, if you travel to the northern part of the state, like Taos, Espanola, Las Vegas, and even Santa Fe or Albuquerque, you’ll most likely find fine dining establishments serving dishes much like you will find at North of the Border.
“We get a lot of traffic traveling through, and they love to stop, because they say these are the only places we can get this food,” he said.
It is obvious cooking and preparing food for people is a passion for Vigil even though his normal trade is as a plumber.
“I’m a plumber by trade and I’ve been doing it for 27 years, but when I’m not doing that, I’m home cooking,” Vigil said smiling. “When we have home events, everyone’s like, Josh cooks. Me or my mom. My mom and I cook very, very similar. She’s old school, I have this little culinary twist I try to put in there. I try to make things look really fancy.”
But, the food truck with the MainStreet program isn’t the first time Vigil, and his wife and family, have brought their fare to a food truck. Last year, Vigil’s mother and step-dad partnered with he and his wife Leslie to start their own food truck, albeit a much smaller version than the trailer that is part of the MainStreet program.
“We started one last year, in June, I think,” Vigil said. “My parents bought that (food truck trailer) as an investment and they asked if we would like to help. My mom’s always been a great cook, but she’s older and can’t do it by herself. I love to cook, and my wife and I decided to do it.”
Even though the Vigil’s have a small food truck trailer, starting a food business from scratch did have a learning curve. So, when the Local Innovators’ program opportunity came along, Vigil thought it would be the perfect time to see if their plan will work on a larger level.
“This program, it kind of came to me through Leslie (Boldt, of the Lovington Chamber of Commerce),” Vigil said. “We went in because we wanted to try to promote ourselves and do as well as we could, and be part of the community. We were limited to what we could produce out of our trailer. There were things we couldn’t do, and there were things we hadn’t been able to prove if they were acceptable. We did the Fourth of July event, and we did the County Fair, and we did the best we could. But being part of this program has allowed us to open and expand our menu.”
The Lovington MainStreet Local Innovators Institute program is a seven-week restaurant accelerator pilot program designed to help reduce the risk associated with going into the food industry.
“We did it as a pilot program this year, but we will be continuing it every year,” Lovington MainStreet Executive Director Mara Salcido told the News-Sun. “Our mission and our purpose with this food truck is to create an entertainment and dining cluster in Lovington. We feel if we grow our own local entrepreneurs, they will re-invest in the community.”
Brad Clayton wraps up this year’s program starting this week with Be Crabby Cajun. Clayton said he hopes to “bring flavor to our community with dishes and recipes not normally obtained in our area. Who’s ready for frog legs, crawfish, and alligator?”
Blake Ovard may be reached at .