Chucheman Hernandez: Tijuana's Underground Food-Video Star

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
Bill Esparza
Chucheman and Chuchegirl with their custom Coriat stove

Unless you subscribe to the Latino package on Dish Network--I do!--you may not have noticed that Mexico now has its own food network: Utilisima. The global foodist fever has caught on south of the border, introducing reality-based food programming, and the concept of chef as celebrity. It was all very clear when I attended a conference in Ensenada this past summer for culinary students--they practically ran us over trying to get an autograph from one of Utilisima's stars.

Baja has received a lot of coverage from the Argentine-based Utilisima network shows hosted by Tabascan native, chef Aquiles Chavez (he's as big in Mexico now as Emeril was a few years ago), who dedicated several shows to Baja coverage, and from Ensenada's own chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris in their hit show Benito y Solange--their playful romp through Ensenada and Baja's wine country. Along with all the recent US media coverage, Baja has become a cross-border superstar.

The cooking and travel shows taped in Baja have featured the top Baja chefs, of course, and its legendary street stands, with plenty of the dumping and stirring associated with cooking shows. As much as I love these shows, and enjoy taking a stab at some of the recipes, I'm far more interested in making the Mexican food I crave when I'm back at home. I'm talking about paisa food, cabrones, and I thought there was no hope out there until I heard about a Tijuana home cook named Chucheman. You want to put together a down home parrillada overflowing with roasted meats, a mean Tijuana-style beef birria, or even an authentic pescado zarandeado just like they do in Sinaloa? Chucheman is your, um, man.

Chucheman Hernandez, who took his name from one of his favorite pastimes--getting sweets from chucherias (Mexican sweet shops)--was born in Jalisco and has cooking in his blood. He learned to cook from his mother, was a taquero for 3 years in Culiacan, Sinaloa; cooked in the galley at a San Diego submarine base, and was a line cook at the Soup Exchange in Chula Vista. He has lived in Tijuana for the last 24 years, and has always been curious about cooking.

At first, Hernandez started to upload random travel videos to YouTube just for fun, until his family and his wife (Chuchegirl) encouraged him to do his first cooking video. He had created a homemade pizza using flour tortillas as the crust, Ragu tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, onions, garlic, peppers, whole garlic cloves, pepperoni, and ham; everyone loved it so much they thought he should share the recipe. It seems like Chucheman knew he was destined for fame from the start--he came out from the start with his signature tag line, "¡Riquísimo!"--and nowadays he hears people blast him a riquisimo or two at the supermarkets just as much as Emeril hears fans say, "Bam! To date, his paisa pizza has received close to 375,000 hits on YouTube.

Chucheman didn't even realize he was becoming famous until he began to be recognized all over Tijuana. He was just having fun, even taping a segment where he and his family members were opening Coke bottles with spoons to watch them shoot across the room like bullets. His YouTube page counts over 9.5 million hits; top videos have been viewed over 300,000 times and around 60,000 fans on his website.

And now, the videos!

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