As the Mexican mobile kitchen Bocadillos approaches its five-year mark in 2024, Linda Perez’s recipes date back generations to Mexico. In fact, Perez proudly states this on the side of the truck with “Traditional Flavors Est. 1928.” This is a nod to her 95-year-old mother, who now lives with her in Oconomowoc. She both inspired her daughter’s cooking and provided many of the recipes.
Perez grew up cooking with her mother and aunts in Mexico. She brought the traditions with her when she moved to Oconomowoc, where she and her husband of 30 years raised their three children.
After 27 years working in the beauty industry, Perez decided to follow her passion to feed others. She bought a food truck, then told her husband Tom. He was fully on board and four years ago she started selling her dishes. If all the licenses go through, by the end of this month they plan to operate the food truck in a space next to their Oconomowoc home on Wood St. and Summit Ave.
Bocadillos currently serves 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through March 30 at the Waukesha Winter Farmers Market at Martha Merrell Bookstore, 231 W. Main St., Waukesha.
There is no draining of inspiration
It’s never too late. Most women start their businesses when they are young. For me, my goal was to start my business before I turned 50. That wasn’t happening, so OK, let’s go to 55. I did it at 55. When I turn 60, I’ll be celebrating my fifth anniversary. That’s next year.
When I came to the United States, I didn’t speak English. I feel like I’ve been breaking barriers all my life. It’s not impossible. Follow your dreams. The first day I saw my trailer was like a dream come true and I hadn’t even opened it yet.
Cooking for others comes naturally
I’ve been a cook all my life. I went to cooking school in Mexico when I was younger. I like to cook because my mother had six sisters. She’s the baby, and my grandmother died when my mother was six or seven. All the sisters always cooked and used my grandmother’s recipes when they got together. I am one of 12, number eight. My older sisters loved to cook. I also developed it because I wanted to be a part of it.
Her dreams have deep roots
I immigrated to the United States from Mexico. I grew up in Jalisco, a great culinary region. The food in Jalisco is one of the best in the world, along with Michoacán and Oaxaca. I was born in the state of Michoacán, but I didn’t grow up there. I was in Jalisco, which is about two hours away.
I’ve always considered myself Jalisciense, a Tapatia girl, even though I was born in Michoacán and still have family there. I love food and culinary traditions. I had two of the best parts of Mexico and my heart is in both places. My roots are in Michoacan, but I grew up in Jalisco.
When I went to cooking school in Guadalajara, Jalisco, I started developing ideas, thinking that maybe one day I would open a restaurant. When I moved here, I came to Chicago and lived there for a while. This was not homemade for me. It was too much. Then we came to Wisconsin and I started working. It was the 80’s and I was working at a Mexican restaurant called Rudy’s. When I was working there, I got the idea again that a restaurant would be good. I knew it was hard to open a restaurant. I focused on learning English. I didn’t know what to do, but cooking was always in my heart.
What cooking for others means to her
I want to give people what I have experienced all my life. My husband is American and had no idea what Mexican food was until he married me. It was kind of sad for me to watch people eat food and think it’s Mexican. Then I started to get more serious. In my dreams, I wanted to be able to cook good food like I ate when I was in Mexico.
What is always on her menu
We make tamales and that is what we are well known for. We do chicken, pork, poblano, vegetables, poblano and cheese, and pineapple. Everywhere we go, people are looking for our tamales. Not spicy, just a perfect bite.
If you’ve never had a tamale, whoever sells it to you should have the ability to make you fall in love with it. Tamales are a big tradition in Mexico. Every country has its own taste.
Feedback on her soul
I have a very young client, a third grader, who came with Grandpa. I asked if he knew tamales. She said no, I never ate them. Ok, do you like plain sweet or spicy? She said sweetly. I gave her a pineapple tamale. This is at the expense of the house, just try it and let me know what you think. Grandpa ordered a pork and chicken tamale. I asked her what do you think? She said she loved him. Can you tell people at school during the show and tell? how about She said, “Feels like a hug.”
The most important cooking tip her mother ever gave her
It’s very simple. My mother did everything by heart. She had no measures. I tried measuring the ingredients, but it didn’t work out for me either. It’s all a matter of taste.
My mother said, “If you’re not in a good mood, if you’re not happy, don’t come cook in the kitchen. Don’t come near me. Don’t even go into the kitchen.” When you cook, you have to think about everyone who will eat your food. You must have a happy heart. If you like it, someone else will too.
These are the basics of her menu
We are known for our chicken tacos. We have corn and flour tortillas and we are introducing a blue corn tortilla. We also make fish tacos. It’s not fried fish. We make cooked fish according to our own recipe and spices. We serve it with cabbage and our own dressing that we make, guacamole and jalapeño peppers.
We make Mexican rice in red, cilantro or white for special events. We make the red rice every day. We order our tortillas from Chicago. We wanted to make them fresh, but it’s hard to make them at the same time because people will wait longer. The ones we get from Chicago are like the ones that are close to the ones we have in Mexico. The flour ones are like the ones my dad used to make.
What you need to know about her food
At the food truck, I won’t serve anything I didn’t make that day. I can’t serve something that won’t be served as it would be at my family’s table.
The possibility of peppers
It’s amazing, in the 80s we used to carry a huge sack of dried peppers from Mexico, all kinds. We were going to put them back on the plane because it was so hard to find anything here. Even if you went to Chicago, it was hard to find them. Whoever goes to Mexico, we’d say bring me a bag of guajillo, arbol, ancho, even sea salt. My sister was coming to visit, we used to say she brought cornflakes.
Now everything is available in Milwaukee. I love going to the Mexican stores in Milwaukee, El Rey, Cermak, but even Restaurant Depot has lots of peppers! I couldn’t believe it.
Her favorite winter time
Mexican hot chocolate. We serve it at the Waukesha Farmers Market. We do the Mexican cinnamon, we put in some brown sugar, maybe a clove, and our chocolate abuelita, actually cacao from the state of Oaxaca. Steam and mix with almond or regular cow’s milk. Abuelita chocolate, there is no other chocolate like it.
We also present to you the champurrado, a hot drink that usually accompanies any tostada or tamale… Nice cornmeal stewed with Mexican cinnamon until it looks like a thick soup and mixed with chocolate abuelita, water and milk. You blend it until it’s thick, sauce-style, and then sip it in your favorite glass. This is what I drink on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with a tamale.
The kitchen tools you can’t live without
I always have to buy two or three of the same. Why? Because I have two daughters. I have three hand held tortilla makers. I have to have these to make fresh tortillas. I make them for breakfast. I have to get a molcajete. My mother is 95 and lives with us. She wouldn’t eat the same if she didn’t eat salsa martajada de molcajete.
fork. A spoon. life. explores the everyday relationship local notables have with food. To suggest future profiles, email [email protected].