Señoreata, a Cuban pop-up restaurant based in Los Angeles, made history when it won the 15th season of The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network. The Señoreata team is led by creator Evanice Holz and includes Chely Saludado and Adri Law. The trio faced off against Amawele’s South African Kitchen, Eso Artisanal Pasta, sandwich concept Food Flight, Girl’s Got Balls, which serves arancini balls in unconventional flavors, Mexican fusion truck Salsa Queen, soul food caterer Sauté Kingz, Southern Pride Asian Fusion, which combines Southern and Asian cuisines, and loaded macaroni and cheese truck Maybe Cheese Born With It in season 15, which was officially dubbed “Hottest Season Ever.”
The last two teams competed in San Diego to out-cook and out-sell one another in an effort to take home the $50,000 first prize. Señoreata was the first plant-based food concept to make it to the finale. Over the course of two days, the two teams competed in a series of three challenges. First up, Señoreata was charged with coming up with a distinctive take on the iconic macaroni and cheese dish from Maybe Cheese Born With It, a dairy-based dish that is one of the brand’s best-selling items. Maybe Cheese Born With It to add its own flair to Señoreata’s plant-based ceviche. Señoreata impressed consumers with a vegan, three-cheese chicken quesadilla that had provolone, cheddar, queso fresco, onions, plant-based fried chicken, and drizzles of garlicky crema, whereas their rival chose shrimp-topped macaroni and cheese.
Tyler Florence, the host, stunned both teams with a second challenge when they threw their new creations onto the street outside of a nearby brewery. This time, they had to develop a new menu item that would go well with a particular craft beer. Both teams chose a light, citrusy IPA, but Señoreata’s tacos with pinto beans, its trademark Cuban frita pork, and a sprinkle of cilantro-garlic sauce won out over Maybe Cheese Born With It’s loaded macaroni and cheese with a spicy lime salsa and Tajin.
The second day of the competition’s finals was when both teams would finally face a new obstacle. And this time, they had to come up with a dish that was beyond spicy using one of three chilis: the Carolina Reaper, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, or habanero. Although the judges were thrilled by Señoreata’s stuffed gordita with Carolina Reaper salsa, it was deemed too spicy to consume, and Maybe Cheese Born With It’s elote macaroni and cheese with habanero won.
Señoreata was finally chosen as the winner despite the setback, with emcee Florence exclaiming, “You won one for the vegans!” The Cuban pop-up not only made history by becoming the first vegan concept to win the competition show, it also did it with the largest margin of victory in the competition program’s history, taking home a staggering $9,911 in San Diego and defeating its rival by $4,222.
“This show has been airing for 12 years, to be the first plant-based concept to make it to the finale, while also serving a massive niche cuisine with Cuban food, feels indescribable… When I was in high school watching Food Network, I wish I saw a Latina-owned business and team of three women of color that I could relate to shattering glass ceilings. I’m really moved by it and that my company has made that kind of impact on food, Holz stated.
Holz states that the prize money will be distributed equally. “[Law] and [Saludado] put their lives and work on hold to help me chase my dream and deserve to spend it however they want… As for me […] it’s been a dream to have made it this far on Food Network, and I plan to put the money straight back into the company,” Holz said.
Vegan Cuban Food by Señoreata
Señoreata was established in East Los Angeles in 2017 when Holz filled her Prius to the brim with supplies and a portable kitchen so she could serve her plant-based, Cuban food at events all over the city. With dishes like Cubano sandwiches made with jackfruit lechon (jackfruit pork in a citrusy, peppery marinade), buttery, guava- and cheese-stuffed pastries, and loaded cassava fries with pickled onions, avocado, cilantro garlic sauce, dairy-free queso, and lime, the pop-up has developed a cult following today.
“I’m rewriting the narrative of my own experience as a first generation, modern, Cuban-Brazilian American, and making food my own way,” said Holz.
Although Señoreata made its debut five years ago, Holz’s own vegan path can be linked to the pop-up origins. Three after going vegetarian, Holz stumbled onto a Food Network Magazine article featuring a plant-based chef and his vegan dog. Holz’s curiosity overcame her, and she made a New Year’s resolution to adopt a vegan diet for two months; she eventually kept up the new lifestyle.
But soon after switching to a vegan diet, Holz discovered that she was missing the Cuban food she had grown up on. The entrepreneur, a first-generation Cuban-Brazilian American, began requesting the family’s traditional recipes from her father and grandmother. Holz says that turning them vegan was simpler than she anticipated.
“When I went plant-based, I had to start learning how to cook because my father certainly didn’t know what to cook for me. He didn’t understand the concept of veganism… I started [veganizing] picadillo and arroz con pollo. I went from there, developing recipes at 19 years old. Señoreata is an extension of that whole experience,” Holz said.
“I’m rewriting the narrative of my own experience as a first generation, modern, Cuban-Brazilian American, and making food my own way. It’s all about figuring it out—that’s the first generation tagline… Señoreata is me figuring it out, and here’s what I’ve [learned]. I feel even more connected [to my culture] than when I was eating these dishes as a child,” Holz said.
Inspiring a new vegan generation
Holz hopes that her participation in The Great Food Truck Race would encourage people who have business aspirations to take the first step toward starting their own company. She also wants to show off how tasty plant-based food can be and demonstrate that it can compete with omnivore foods.
“I think we might inspire other people to put more plant-based dishes on their menu because they see, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something to this… I know there’s still a lot of people who think plant-based food is something foreign, but I think if you release the stigma behind vegan food, [we can] unwrap it, bring it back to basics, and serve it in a way that is culturally relevant,” Holz said.
This craving for wholesome, plant-based meals is what motivates Holz. Holz is in the early stages of building a restaurant in Joshua Tree in addition to her tenure on the Food Network. The entrepreneur, who divides her time between Los Angeles and the high desert, has aspirations of expanding the vegan dining options in Joshua Tree, where there aren’t many plant-based eateries. In addition to her food businesses, Holz wants to start seminars and services that will show low-income families how to prepare plant-based meals on a budget.
Visit the pop-up on Instagram to find out where Señoreata is going next and to have a taste of their vegan fare.
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