It took eight men to lift the massive iron grill off a trailer and carry it into El Machito, the San Antonio restaurant that Johnny Hernandez plans to open in two weeks.
Metal workers in Guadalajara spent six months building the grill to the chef's specifications. But to those unfamiliar with Mexico's rich barbecue traditions, it might appear as a Medieval torture device with iron rods of varying lengths leaning over a trough of fire.
"In Mexico they pick up the rods with the meat and just move them to and from the heat," Hernandez explained, "but I've designed my grill with gears, so I can move the rods with a lever."
Hernandez's grandparents came from central and northern Mexico. He grew up in Texas, where his parents ran a small Mexican restaurant. His father dreamed of another life for his son: "I don't want you cooking Mexican food," he told young Hernandez, "I don't want you selling tacos!"
But after studying French technique in New York, Hernandez found his way back to the Lone Star State, and his roots. He celebrates Mexican street food (including, yes, tacos) at La Gloria, and fruit cart culture at The Frutería.
At El Machito the focus will be on grilling. There will be cabritos, goats roasted whole over smoldering logs of mesquite, racks of ribs and house-made sausages--from chorizo verde to longaniza--as well as the chicken- and pork-centric preparations of the south.
There will also be seafood from the Pacific coast, like the beautiful pescado a la talla (see the recipe). The fish draws flavor from toasted guajillo peppers, onion and garlic blitzed with achiote paste. Then, like everything else at El Machito, it's kissed with the sweet wood smoke of Hernandez's monster grill.