FARRO FOOD HERO | TIO PABLO
Mexico may be on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean, but that hasn’t stopped Faine Alexander’s fervour for Mexican food.
In 2006, the same year that Farro was founded, Tio Pablo was created using only a tiny and temperamental tortilla machine. Three years ago, Faine mortgaged her house to purchase a second tortilla machine and moved into larger premises. Last year, a tortilla chip machine and a roaster were added to the mix to increase production even more and to complement a growing range of Mexican sauces, spices and more. We’ve enjoyed seeing Faine’s passion and thriving business grow (especially when we get to taste her latest creations). We caught up with Faine at Tio Pablo HQ in Wiri, to hear the story of her business, her secret ingredients and how the Mexican food scene has been revamped down under.
As we arrived, the smell of fresh corn tortillas being baked had us convinced it was completely acceptable to eat tacos at 9 o’clock in the morning. Then out popped Faine, a vibrantly passionate food lover who hails from California but has called New Zealand home for the past 21 years. The name itself, Tio Pablo, translates to Uncle Paul, who was the great uncle of Faine’s three Mexican-American sons. A kind-hearted, gorgeous and lovely man is how Faine describes him, he was a great role model.
“I have this old black and white photo of Uncle Paul when he was about nine in Tijuana, Mexico. He’s sitting on a donkey, wearing a sombrero and a poncho. I just love this photo and I remember thinking, let’s do something for this kind man, Tio Pablo was named after him, and he was really proud.”
Whether you’re looking for a specific ingredient or cooking an entire fiesta, Tio Pablo brings the most authentic favours to the table. Sourcing ingredients from local New Zealand growers and straight from the source itself, Mexico. For Faine, producing has always been a primary focus and a ‘homemade, hands-on’ on process. Starting from scratch making simple corn tortillas, Tio Pablo has grown to produce spice mixes, dried chillis, Totopito tortilla chips, sauces, roasted seeds, nuts and more.
In recent years – Mexican food has exploded in popularity, moving away from Tex-Mex-inspired nachos and tacos, which Kiwis were previously accustomed to, to embracing the incredible variety of vibrant and zingy favours the cuisine has to offer. “People in New Zealand are great travellers and are now creating the food at home that they try overseas. More and more people are asking about our products such as tamales, mole, achiote, blue and yellow corn. It’s become a very diverse country and it’s fantastic to see how ethnic food has grown in the last 12 years.” Faine says.
Rich in culinary history, the Mexican cuisine is an intrinsic part of it’s culture. So when it comes to creating Tio Pablo recipes, Faine makes sure they’re Mexican approved, using her Mexican friends, family and 22 multi-national staff members as the real taste testers. “I feel particularly responsible to honour Mexican food,” she says. “Generally I want my own little signature in a recipe, without going too far off the beaten track.” Working closely with her production manager, Arturo (who just so happens to be a Mexican food technician, specifically focusing on the production of corn tortillas), the duo are constantly throwing ideas back and forth. “Round here it’s always: ‘Let’s do this! Let’s do that!’ and if it doesn’t work out, well, let’s try something else, I love that.”
When Faine’s not in the kitchen cooking, you’ll find her at the local Auckland farmers’ markets. “I’ll go to Avondale or Otara farmers’ market to get inspiration for recipes and find what I like to call, the ‘cousins’ of Mexican ingredients! “The other day I found a Chinese vegetable related to Jicama (a Mexican turnip), chopped it up and topped it with chilli powder and lime juice. Yum!” The connection of food and people through migration in Mexico is a topic that fascinates Faine, and for good reason. “A Lebanese population migrated to Mexico at the turn of the century. Ingredients such as chickpeas are part of Mexican food because of that migration,” She says. “I hate the term fusion, but I love watching how people affect food, how it just naturally happens. I think that’s really cool.”
So what’s next on the cards for Tio Pablo? “We’ve got a salsa we’re playing with at the moment! It’s been a huge hit amongst the Latino staff, but a little lukewarm with other contingents. We’ll let this incubate for a bit and then tweak the recipe until we find a nice in between…”. You can find Tio Pablo products at a Farro near you.