El Ranchon is an institution in the Village in Magnolia. Started 20 years ago by Raul Lopez, and his sister Elva, the restaurant serves the Tex-Mex dishes popular in America. El Ranchon’s cook for the past 12 years is Alphonso Simon, 33, who grew up in Puebla State in Mexico and emigrated to Seattle as a young teenager.
Q: Where did you learn to cook?
Alphonso Simon: Here in this place, when I came to Seattle in 1998. And later on, they gave me the opportunity to be a chef. And now, 12 years here.
Q: Why did they offer you the opportunity?
Simon: We love to cook. We love my job. We love life. We try to do our best. We like working hard.
Q: Where are you from?
Simon: Puebla, two hours from Mexico City.
Q: Did you learn to cook at home?
Simon: No, here.
Q: Did you do any cooking when you were growing up?
Simon: No. My mother and grandmother, they cooked every day. I like to see when my father did the barbacoa.
Barbecue? Just like in America!
Q: What did he cook? Pork? Or beef?
Simon: Mostly sheep or Borrego — lamb. Also cow. In Mexico, we like lamb and sheep more.
Q: Mexico is big — lots of different foods in different regions. In Puebla, did you eat rice?
Simon: Yes, rice. And made tortillas at home every day.
Q: What brought you to America?
Simon: In my country, I did farming. Beans and rice. Other people grew tomatoes.
So you had a garden at home.
Q: Who brought you to Seattle?
Q: How did you learn to cook at El Ranchon?
Simon: I watched other people. How they cook. I like to cook. When you love something, everything is OK.
Q: How do you tell a good Mexican restaurant?
Simon: The flavors. The tasting.
Q: Is there a particular thing you look for at a restaurant, something that lets you know a restaurant is good?
Simon: The salsa.
Q: When you visit your family in Puebla, how is the food different from what you serve here?
Simon: The food is more fresh. You can go to the farm. Everything comes in the morning from the farm. The vegetables, the meat (butchered) that same day.
Q: What differences are there between American foods and Mexicans foods?
Simon: Americans have so many condiments.
Simon: Yes. We have only a couple in Mexico.
Q: Are there foods in Mexico that we don’t eat in America?
Simon: I think everything is similar. In my country, we make mole.
Q: I’m not too familiar with that. It has chocolate?
Simon: They have so many spices. They serve it with bananas, cookies.
Q: Is Puebla close to the ocean? Do you cook fish?
Simon: Yes. We fry it, deep fry it. And shellfish, too. We put it in soup.
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Simon: Soccer. In Mexico, we played on a team. When I was 14, 15. But when I came here, I didn’t have time to play.
Q: When you’re not cooking here, what do you make at home?
Simon: All the time we work in the restaurant. We’re working almost everyday. All day.
Q: Do you get ideas for food from other Mexican restaurants?
Simon: No, we all serve the same thing. People come to here for the same thing.
Q: Do you have family?
Simon: Yes, a wife and two daughters, 12 and 10. We live in Northgate.
Q: What do you do for fun with the family?
Simon: Sometimes go swimming. Sometimes watch a movie.
Q: Does your wife cook or do you cook?
Simon: Both cook.
Q: Is she from Puebla, too?
Simon: Yes. We’re going to take our daughters to see my parents. My father is 74 now, my mom is 65.
Q: So your daughters will see their grandparents?
Simon: Yes, this is the first time taking my daughters to Mexico.