A Small Bite –
My Name Is Christopher Guerra. I grew up in the Lower Yakima Valley just north of Sunnyside on a 30 acre pepper farm with my brothers—Aaron, Geraldo, and Fabian. My parents, Lino and Hilda Guerra, grew about 27 different varieties of chili peppers. We also had a variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, and gala and red delicious apples. Our herd of cattle though, was by far, the single biggest fan of all the produce we grew. They would even help themselves in the middle of the night as if it was a grocery store, picking and choosing what was best.
To Start –
My parents and grandparents always cooked for us at home. I still go over to my grandparents, Lazaro and Delfina Cardenas, home at least once a week to visit and eat some of the best food in the world. My grandparents have always made food that I can fully enjoy, even if it’s mostly beans, rice, and lots of vegetables from their garden, and sometimes frozen veggies in the winter months from their freezer (my grandma freezes everything they grow!). Some type of salty cheese is always sitting on the table to have with her microwaved corn tostadas. There’s something about that crunch of a crispy corn tortilla that is more satisfying than falling asleep at night… or perhaps it’s that first cup of coffee in the morning. They came from Jalisco, Mexico and moved to Pasco many years ago. They now live on a small 2 acre lot and grow lots of onions, cilantro, oregano, sweet mint, tomatillos, pinto beans, snap peas, squash, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radish, sweet corn and Mexican corn (used mainly for hominy). My grandma has several freezers to freeze everything coming out of that garden.
Growing up on a large pepper farm meant that my brothers and I all had our fair share of chores to finish in the field. We weeded 150,000 tomatoes plants by hand after they reached that point in the season where they were just too big for a tractor to make it down the long rows. The 100,000 jalapeños, bells, Anaheims, sweet bananas, and serrano peppers, and the rest of the various produce we grew, anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 plants of different varieties, also needed our attention. My parents took us to farmers’ markets throughout Washington state to sell our produce, from the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle to the Yakima Farmers Market. All of us learned a lot about what people wanted to see in the produce that they bought, so we only brought the number 1’s (the most beautiful looking) to the market to sell. The number 2’s were still great but misshapen or blemished so didn’t make the cut for most buyers. Luckily, the cows loved the number 2’s (the same with us chefs, now a days).
None of us realized how lucky we were to experience the farm life growing up, until we all moved away to Seattle! Living in a place where grocery stores are filled with produce from around the world is nice and really convenient. It just never seemed right for any of us to see tomatoes year-round in the store. My parents always cooked fajitas at the farmers’ market while I was growing up as a way to sell out of most of our vegetables. We didn’t like having to take anything back home with us. My dad showed us all how to cook fajitas, and we all have four different ways to cook them. If you add in my mom and dad’s versions, that’s actually six different opinions about how to cook the best fajita. We always compete about who can make the best salsa. Aaron, the oldest, by far has the gold medal. That was our start at cooking. It all began with the fajitas.
I started cooking about 12 years ago. I learned in culinary school about different cultures and regional cuisines from around the world, and who Auguste Escoffier is in classical French cuisine. After studying at culinary school, I worked at a restaurant in downtown Seattle for about six years. One day, I just said it was time I started cooking my own food for people. I put in my two weeks’ notice with almost no money in my pocket and went for it. Now here I am with Guerra’s Gourmet Catering. It took years to develop the relationships we now have with these area farmers. I am very thankful they recognize me from when I was younger, going with my dad to visit them. At first I had trouble getting vegetables because most were being sent to the market on the west side of the mountains. They had more customers to sell their produce to so it was easy to understand why, I just had to learn to get in line earlier for our vegetables. I have high hopes that one day everyone in our area will learn to support their local farmer by visiting them on the farm and meeting them for the first time. Listen to their great stories of how they got started and make the time to have that connection.
Cookies, Candies, and Pastries –
My dad, Geraldo, and I now spend most of our time cooking in the kitchen. Geraldo, driving down from Seattle every weekend to help us out. Dad helps us get ready and is the best sous chef anyone could have. My dad has to put up with us wanting to cook foods in different ways all the time. We all still put time in working in the garden, just not like we used to, and believe me when I say we are thankful, because growing that many vegetables is not easy to do. We are always changing the way we cook. We’re motivated to come up with different items given what is available during any season. We have one rule, and that is to support our area farmers. We spend most of our time driving out to the farms in our area, choosing fruits and vegetables from different farms as everyone has something a little different. Most will always have tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, and bell peppers, but our area farmers have all kinds of backgrounds, and they grow many different varieties of things representing their own cultures, often not seen in any stores. I highly encourage everyone to take that drive and see your local farmer at the farm.
Espresso, Tea, Cream, and Sugar –
Today, Dad, Mom, Geraldo, and I cook with seasonal foods grown in our area because it makes sense to us. We grew up that way. We’ll put pineapple on our wood fired pizzas the day that Washington state starts growing pineapples. We challenge ourselves to have different items on our menu every week to reflect the produce available. We source locally cheese, whole grain flour, vegetables, meats, and everything else we can find along the way, in our journey to make sure our menu throughout the year showcases what our amazing area has to offer. If you do come visit us for our wood fired pizzas, I have a laundry list of the farms who helped make our menu possible. The same goes for when you catch us at Bale Breaker Brewing Company. We use a starter for our wood fired pizza dough that we have been taking care of now for almost five years.
We use a wood oven, a wood grill, and fruit wood from our valley to cook the food that we serve to travelers and locals alike wandering through our little town. We use a ton—literally—of cast iron pots and pans, it’s the only way to cook for us to keep our food from burning. But I tell you the truth we always feed the wood oven gods plenty of food and they eat well. When you visit please say hi we’re always happy answer your questions.