For the love of food


Gabriel Guzman

A Chef adds food to the plate as part of the dish. Socorro, Tex. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

Elisha Nuñez

Texas is a state almost every American knows for its food and cities like El Paso are no exception. The city’s authentic Tex-Mex food and fusions of different cuisines have resonated with people from across the country. Now, it seems to have caught the eye of a notable culinary arts organization  based in New York City; none other than the James Beard Foundation.  

Named after James Andrew Beard; a famous American chef and pioneer of cooking television, the non-profit foundation serves a purpose to celebrate and support the people behind America’s food culture. This year, the foundation released their 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists and for the Best Chef: Texas category, two chefs from West Texas were nominated. Emiliano Marentes, founder of ELEMI in downtown El Paso and Enrique Lozano, founder of El Charlatan in Socorro, both found themselves as semifinalists. 

“It was about eight in the morning when I opened my Facebook Messenger, and I had a message (from) Emiliano, the other James Beard semifinalist,” Lozano said. “I was still half-asleep, and it was a message that just said ‘congratulations’ I jumped out of bed to go to my wife and when I stepped on the floor, I got a cramp. So, I had to lay down there for a little bit until the pain went away.” 

After a childhood that involved cooking, Lozano decided to pursue it as a career during his time at Socorro High School, where he joined the culinary program. While working for Zino’s Greek & Mediterranean Cuisine during his adolescence, Lozano decided to do some home deliveries on the side after trying a dish most of us would heat up in a microwave: ramen.  

“I tried ramen for the first time here in El Paso, this was more than ten years ago, and it was a life changing experience when I traveled around the country,” Lozano said. “So, I started making my own ramen. I was doing Greek and then doing the ramen on the side (with) home delivery services and stuff like that. So, I decided to do my own thing and I started doing ramen again. I never stopped working on my ramen recipes, and really Asian cuisine in general.” 

With his love for Asian cuisine and lifelong experience in cooking Mexican food, El Charlatan was born in October 2021. A diverse menu featuring blends of Latin and Asian foods, El Charlatan offers its customers plenty of combinations that can make your mouth water.  

Lozano’s passion for cooking has not gone without notice, as other publications, local and statewide, have also noticed his creativity in the kitchen. When it comes to the James Beard Foundation, Lozano’s mission will not be subject to change and will remain the same: for El Paso and Socorro to become culinary destinations. 

“It still is my mission, for us to become a food destination worldwide,” Lozano said. “The history here in El Paso, and Socorro was extremely rich for one of the oldest cities in America. I feel like we have a lot to offer. It just takes somebody like Emiliano, like me, to take the next step forward and open a restaurant, and just let people come and try with what we can do. We can offer things here that are being offered in other cities.” 

Sure enough, ELEMI’s founder, Emiliano Marentes, has the same feeling. Like Lozano, Marentes was also raised in a household where cooking was front and center. After watching his dad cook holiday meals, Marentes felt motivated to be involved with all his family’s meals. While going to school for a political science degree later in life, he did not see himself with a future in that field. 

Having experience with restaurants, Marentes decided to pursue cooking as a full-time career. 

Taking inspiration from the tortilleria he worked at when he was younger, Marentes decided to incorporate his experiences there with his dream of owning a restaurant. 

After moving back to El Paso from San Antonio in 2017, he would start trying to bring his dream to life until the following year when in 2019, ELEMI was established. 

“The name is actually my wife’s idea. I was trying to find a name that was closely related to maiz, whether it was through stories or folklore, which I just wasn’t able to find,” Marentes said. 

“When I was little as a kid, they would call me Emi instead of Emiliano, then my wife, when she would post food that I would make, she would always post #ELEMI, #TACOSELEMI, or whatever ELEMI. So, when we were building out the restaurant (we thought), why couldn’t we just call it ELEMI, and that’s how it got the name.” 

Following three years of ELEMI’s opening, its performance and that of Marentes were discovered by the James Beard Foundation. 

Like Lozano, Marentes was also shocked and excited he was the recipient of semifinalist status from such a prestigious organization.  

When it comes to the award, neither chef is going to let the outcome stop them from doing what they love the most and doing it for their community. 

“I want people to be proud to live here and to want to be here. I want kids who live here to want to live here, to want to be here, (and) as much as I love this accolade, I don’t want the accolade to define who I am,” Marentes said. “I have a vision of what I’m doing, and I want to stick to that vision. I don’t want to change who I am because that vision got me here. If I win, I hope it’s more so for our community and for everyone else that’s involved, not just for ELEMI.” 

Nominees for the final round of this year’s James Bear Foundation Awards will be announced Wednesday, March 29, and the winners will be announced Monday, June 5, during a ceremony in Chicago, Ill. 

To stay updated, tune in to the James Beard Foundation’s official website for results. 

Elisha Nunez may be reached at [email protected]