Mar 25, 2024 - Food and Drink

Why this Salt Lake City Mexican restaurant relies on an ancient cooking method

A large bowl of blue corn kernels.

Blue corn kernels being prepared for masa. Courtesy: House of Corn

At his Salt Lake City Mexican restaurant, owner and chef Armando Guerrero uses an ancient process to create the foundation for most dishes.

State of play: Formerly located in Sandy, Guerrero reopened House of Corn in March at the former Even Stevens sandwich shop off 400 East and 200 S.

  • The restaurant's draw is their handmade corn tortillas.

How it works: Nixtamalization is a cooking method to make masa, also known as corn dough, by cooking kernels in water and calcium hydroxide.

  • After the kernels are done steeping, they become soft enough to be ground and shaped into vessels for a variety of dishes, including tacos, tamales, sopes, huaraches and more.
  • The process dates back over 3,5000 years ago to Mesoamerica.
  • The cooking method is tedious and anything can go wrong if the ratios are off, according to Guerrero, but the labor results in a more delectable and nutritious tortilla.
Tortillas cook on a machine.
Courtesy: House of Corn

The big picture: Corn is the pillar of Mexican cuisine, but many restaurants rely on store-bought tortillas that are so processed they can sit on the shelves for months, Guerrero noted.

  • He uses three white, blue and red corn kernels and lives by the Mexican proverb, "sin maíz, no hay país," which translates to "without corn, there's no country."
  • Making tortillas from scratch is becoming a lost art even in Mexico, where many residents frequent tortilla shops, or tortillerías, said Guerrero, who hails from the Mexican state of Morelos.

Yes, but: Mexican chefs across the U.S. are reviving the practice.

A carne asada taco.
A carne asada taco from House of Corn. Photo: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

Flashback: Guerrero moved to the U.S. to attend BYU-Idaho in 2019 and noticed the lack of authentic Mexican cuisine.

  • "The majority of Mexican food made in America isn't really Mexican. It's Tex-Mex," he told Axios.
  • That's when he started making his tortillas, which quickly became a hit among his friends.
  • The first-time restaurateur opened House of Corn in 2020, but it closed last year due to low foot traffic.

The bottom line: A handmade tortilla elevates any Mexican dish, and it's fresh air to see a restaurant go back to the basics.

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