CHEF'S CORNER | Alphonso Simon of El Ranchon

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!

Simon: Yes.


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.

Simon: Yes. I have many plants when I go (visit) my home in Mexico.


Q: Who brought you to Seattle?

Simon: My brother. He brought me here almost 19 years ago. First, I worked at Jalisco (Mexican Restaurant) No. 1. The little one. Now it’s closed.


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.


Q: 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.