Co-op Conversation with Hector Suazo
Hector Suazo has a history and a story, and though his life began 20 something years ago, his plant-based menu is the start to the story he is telling through our Meatless Mondays. I sat down with Mr. Suazo last week after he finished setting up the Hot Bar for Meatless Mondays, a staple hot bar event for the Co-op for, the past three years. Though the mission of Meatless Mondays is to provide vegan meal options and highlight the global effort to consume less meat to counteract the negative environmental effects of the cooperate meat industry, Hector has his own goals and background for creating the plant based menus our hot bar has become known for.
Hector Suazo: I was born in Nicaragua, but my family is from Honduras.
Raafe-Ahmaad Purnsley: Who primarily cooked in your family?
H.S.: Mom, great grandma, grandma. They cooked rice, beans, eggs, tortillas with avocados. Sometimes meat, but meat was a luxury.
RP: Where y’all making those tortillas?
H.S.: Yea, they would grind the corn and bake them on the stove.
R.P.: When did you first cook something?
H.S.: When I was 10, my mom taught me to make an egg.
R.P.: Did you want to?
H.S.: No, I had to learn, so I could eat.
Hector got started as a dishwasher at local restaurant Piedmont. He had enough credits to graduate high school, so he would leave school early to work. Within a month he rose from dish washer to garde manger to sauté.
R.P.: Do you miss the Piedmont kitchen?
H.S.: Yes, because of the challenges brought to the kitchen by the chef to aid in consistently executing great farm to table food. Meticulously garnishing or perfectly timed techniques, depending on what the food was.
R.P.: That seems nerve wracking, did you enjoy the challenges?
H.S.: Oh yea. I liked the exhilarating adrenaline that you get from non-stop cooking from clock in to once you are done. Constant communication with the servers, it is like a battlefield and the chef is the captain. I guess the customers are the enemy, you can say.
I’d miss something or put something out 30secs before it was suppose to be done and the chef would yell and throw food into the garbage. But I had no hard feelings, it was how it was.
R.P.: Is the Co-op kitchen more peaceful?
H.S.: FOR SURE!!!!!! By far.
R.P: Do you prefer making vegan food?
H.S.: I prefer making plant-based food.
R.P.: ‘Scuse me, do you prefer the term “plant-based”?
H.S.: Yes, I feel vegan is a label and people focus on the label, they don’t taste the food. Labels are like filters. People begin trying to figure out how the food is vegan, what is missing, or what it is and they aren’t tasting the food. They are analyzing it. You don’t enjoy the food through the filters.
Hector doesn’t just make amazing plant-based foods, he is a staple of the Durham community. In between jobs at local kitchens, including Piedmont, Pizzeria Toro, Taberna Tapas, Rue Cler, and Durham Co-op Market, Hector has also worked with the Scrap Exchange and is an avid skate boarder. He can be seen skating, and doing maintenance at the Rigsbee skate park. Much like his pastimes, Suazo’s food is a part of his experiences and his love. Suazo’s journey is a local one, and he hopes his food, made from nourishing, high quality ingredients, helps make the Co-op known in the area to welcome everyone.
R.P.: So here at the Co-op you are re–developing Meatless Mondays.
H.S.: Yep, for the past several months. I had never been given the official charge to feed the people on my own. It was my new challenge, and I love challenges.
R.P.: Do you remember your first Meatless Mondays menu?
H.S.: Yes I do (laughs and pulls out cell phone)
R.P: YAAAS, tech!
H.S: (laughs bashfully) At that time Matt (DCM Kitchen and Prepared Foods Manager) and Leila (DCM General Manager) and I were all sharing ideas about what to make. Then I had to learn how to pair foods. Proteins with veggies, not too many starches, but now I got it.
Hector showed me a picture of his first meal. It was a cilantro and lime hummus cucumber boat. He had taken cucumbers and filled them with the hummus and then served them alongside housemade vegan chorizo (made by Donovan, the DCM vegan artisan) with green-beans and tomatoes and “accompanied with a potato medley of red bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and love.”, Hector said with an impish snicker.
R.P: You love what you do?
H.S.: Yes of course…at times, it is a love and…I wouldn’t say hate
R.P: It is a real love that is accompanied with all the emotions of life.
R.P.: Do you have any missions or future goals?
H.S: I’d like to make the Co-op and myself known in Durham for good quality plant-based foods. Veganism is on the come up and so I feel like it is a good point and time to show what we have to offer. Even though we aren’t a restaurant we can still put out good quality food. I think the public is still skeptical about coming here because we aren’t a restaurant. I understand those emotions, but we aren’t just a grocery store.
R.P.: So if you are the hero of your own story…
RP: Well I guess I was gonna ask one last question, but I think that is the truth of this interview?
H.S.: …I don’t know how to respond….
R.P.: Let the food speak for itself.