* UPDATE TO article originally written June 2015: We are coming up on our one year anniversary of opening our doors and although both Arabella Daniels and Beto Rincon have since moved on to pursue other career goals we want to acknowledge the contribution they put forth to make La Botanica a dream come true; especially La Sugarbomb: Arabella Daniels. May your path always be bright and your bellies always full.
Written by Maribel Valdez Hermosillo
Imagine combining the delicious healing powers of fresh locally produced vegetables with the expertise of Tejanxs who have a serious passion for fresh flavor. The result is La Botanica, a Vegan Restaurant that opened on the N. St. Mary’s strip in mid-June. La Botanica has already created a buzz in San Antonio for all of the right reasons.
Rebeca Lopez of Rebel Eats is bringing her charismatic and fiery passion for healthy and innovative Vegan fare to the community with the help of her culinary co-conspirators: Sous Chef Arabella Parlati Daniels and Chef Jose Alberto “Beto” Rincon. While their colorful backgrounds are different, it is obvious that this trio has a unique chemistry developed by their shared love of social justice, traditional music from Vera Cruz, Mexico known as Son Jarocho, community building, and of course, food.
Arabella Parlati Daniels will serve as the Sous Chef of La Botanica. She is a queer Southern woman from South Louisiana. She spent 10 years in South Mississippi and has lived in Texas for the last 5 years. She received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Human Rights from the University of Southern Mississippi. She is an educator and a community organizer for immigrant and farmworker’s rights. In addition, Arabella runs a program at San Anto Cultural Arts called Son Semillas, where she teaches the art of Son Jarocho to youth in the West side of San Antonio.
Jose Alberto “Beto” Rincon is a Tejan@ from Seguin, Texas. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas Lutheran University. While at Texas Lutheran University, he minored in Spanish and Geography. At Texas Lutheran University, Beto was the president of the Mexican-American Student Association. He became an apprentice for the Seguin LULAC Community Garden where he continued his work as a community organizer around food justice.
Beto and Arabella will be instrumental in developing the garden at La Botanica where the trio hopes to involve local high school students.
The San Antonio community and lucky visitors will get to partake of a menu that has been carefully crafted to reflect the diversity of the trio. The trio will elevate hometown favorites while proving that a plant based lifestyle can heal our communities without missing the “mmm” factor.
This dream team’s resplendent Vegan creations draw inspiration from New Mexico, Southern Mexico, Tejas, and Louisiana. The menu reflects their love of the gulf coast regional influences, San Antonio and each other.
I had the opportunity to chat with the Chefs of La Botanica about their thoughts on how their identity and experiences will change the way Vegan food is perceived and prepared in San Antonio.
Maribel Valdez Hermosillo: When did you know that you wanted to become a Chef?
Arabella Parlati Daniels: I didn’t. I am still figuring it out. I feel a lot more comfortable with the title “Cook” because that is what I am and that is the way I was trained, as a home cook. I have always loved food. My mom jokes that I used to make sounds of ecstasy when I was breastfed as a baby. I was basically a fat kid from the time I left the womb. I don’t think my love or passion for food has ever stopped. Growing up in South Louisiana and having access to some of the best food in the world was a birth right that only intensified my love of food.
Jose Alberto “Beto” Rincon: It’s more like, at different points of my life, preparing food was attractive to me. My first job was supposed to be a dishwasher at a local restaurant but once I arrived on my first day, they told me I would start training in the kitchen. I never once washed dishes in the first 2 years but I did become a line cook. Eventually, I was promoted to manager of weekend buffets. Growing up, I had already grown to love home cooking because my ‘buelita was an amazing cook who shared all of her recipes with her children and grandchildren. My ‘buelita took care of a garden in her home therefore I was exposed to the importance of gardening at a young age. The writing was on the wall at an early age for me to love cooking.
Maribel: How does your identity as a community organizer and activist shape the way that you see food?
Arabella: First and foremost, spending the last 10 years organizing around immigration and farmworker issues has really impacted the way I feel about food in general. When I was in college in Mississippi, I worked at one of the local chicken processing plants as a safety supervisor. I walked around and observed for safety hazards in the plant. This meant that I had to deal with line workers who would get injured on the job, usually some kind of amputation. I witnessed a guy who had his entire arm ripped out of his shoulder because it was caught in a piece of equipment. He was undocumented so the company just fired him. They left him differently-abled, unemployed, and with a pile of medical expenses. Experiences like these have made me feel really frustrated. Acknowledging the experience of farmworkers is an important aspect of living a plant-based lifestyle.
Beto: Food and community are central to my identity as a community organizer and activist. I eat, sleep, day dream, and night dream about ways in which we can engage more people with their food systems: the global food system, the food system in the United States, and the local food system of our respective communities. If we can get more people to engage with the food system as an idea, then wonderful initiatives are bound to continue in the efforts to improve those systems which we all rely on to feed ourselves and our families.
Maribel: What is your vision of the foodie revolution in San Antonio in the next 10 years? How will your involvement in La Botanica shape the ever-evolving culture?
Arabella: What is a foodie revolution and how can I avoid it? I am for more grandmas in the kitchen showing us young folks how to do it. I am not that impressed with people my age (including myself) and what they have to bring to the table. I am much more interested in hearing from people, especially women of color, who have been holding down the food traditions in San Antonio and in this country for centuries, and who seem to have yet get the credit they deserve for helping us be where we are gastronomically speaking. The thing that excites me the most about La Botanica is working in a kitchen run mostly by women. I think the food industry is super macho and racist in a lot of ways. I am looking forward to working in a space that challenges those narratives. I couldn’t ask to work with a more wonderful group of people that do so much for the community. Danny Delgado (Part Owner and Creator of La Botanica) and Rebeca Lopez are not only important community organizers but they also constantly lend their talents and spaces to other folks in San Anto that do community work as well. I feel proud to work at a restaurant that believes giving back and investing in its community is just as important as making it financially successful.
Maribel: What expertise are you going to bring to the kitchen of La Botanica?
Arabella: I have been cooking since I was 8 years old. My dad preferred to spend our quality time sitting outside reading the paper and smoking cigarettes. Naturally, he thought the best way to put me to use was to have me make supper while he did that. At the time, I was upset about it, but now I realize he helped me cultivate a love for food. I feel that I have an advantage that most folks don’t have, which is growing up in a kitchen. You can learn to make a good roux by taking a cooking class, but you learn how to make a GREAT roux when you have to do it over and over again for years. I have never taken a cooking class in my life but I have grown up cooking around great food and cooks. That kind of experience can really give you an intuition about food that I am not sure can be taught in a classroom.
Beto: My years of experience as a line cook will help replicate the dishes that Arabella and Rebel will largely be developing. La Botanica will grow into a true gem in the N. St. Mary’s community and San Antonio at large because of my passion for learning more about growing my own food and the ways in which other people and even restaurants can produce their own crops for consumption.
Maribel: What does San Antonio have to look forward to when La Botanica opens in the summer?
Arabella: Really fucking good food. The purpose of cooking is to feed people and to make them feel good. I REFUSE to feed people something that isn’t good and that won’t make them feel happier than they did before they came in.
Beto: A unique twist to Vegan fare in San Antonio in that we will be focusing largely on regionally inspired, locally grown flavors, ingredients, and recipes.
Maribel: What appeals to you about the healing powers of Vegan cuisine?
Arabella: Recently, I had the privilege of spending 7 months living and working in the Tuxtlas region of Veracruz, Mexico, specifically working with a group of young girls focused on preserving traditional foods and medicinal plants of the region. We would go around and interview a lot of elders and one of the things that struck me was how the vast majority of the traditional Indigenous diet was plant based: frijoles negros cooked with chunks of chayote, and a broth thickened with herbs and masa. And then I was looking at the viejitos (most of whom were around 90+ years old), and they didn’t have a lot of the health problems their kids did who ate processed foods, sodas, and more meats. That left a huge impact on me. It made me curious to come back to the United States and investigate traditional plant-based dishes that we may have lost or have forgotten.
Beto: One thing that definitely appeals to me about the healing powers of Vegan cuisine is that it is an alternative treatment to such things as cancer which makes me love and respects the true power of food. Not only can it be absolutely divine but if we choose the right foods, it truly does have healing powers. With age, I have grown largely skeptical of the long term effects of conventional medicine so the healing properties of food are very important to me.
Maribel: The kitchen crew at La Botanica will consist of the dream team: Rebeca Lopez, Beto Rincon, and Arabella Parlati Daniels. How did you all meet? What is your chemistry like? How will this chemistry help transform Vegan cuisine that is typically offered in San Antonio?
Arabella: We all met through Son Jarocho, which is hilarious. Our chemistry is great and I really can’t emphasize how excited I am to be working with Beto and Rebeca, both of whom are my friends and excellent human beings in general. Rebeca is one of the most positive people you could ever want to have in your life. She is so encouraging and warm, and is a good balance for my sometimes overly-direct and intense personality. Beto too, he’s such a great guy you can’t help but smile when you hang out with him. I feel like we understand and respect where each other is coming from in relation to how we feel about food and the production and consumption aspects of it. I’m excited to work with somebody who understands the importance of labor, farming, and seasonality in regards to the food we’ll be making at La Botanica. So yeah, basically, dream team is right.
Beto: Arabella and I met through our mutual circle of friends, musicians, activists, educators, and community organizers in Austin maybe 5 or so years ago? Even back then, we were often talking about food and sharing cool food projects we were coming across collectively. Rebel (Rebeca) and I finally met this past year after we both heard a great deal about each other. She knew that I was studying food academically and was really involved in community gardening. I had seen her brand and photos from events that she threw under her pop-up Vegan catering business, Rebel Eats. Between the three of us, there are a lot of ideas. What is cool about this partnership is that we are all excited to learn new things from each other. We are all here to help Rebel (Rebeca) elevate the work she’s been doing for many years now. Arabella and I are both incredibly excited to elevate our skill sets by working on the garden at La Botanica, discussing ways to open the garden to the community and developing our culinary game through the creative process. Fortunately, all three of us share a commitment to community, health, and gente. This commonality will allow us to lead La Botanica to new heights as a new vegan restaurant in San Antonio.