Following The American Dream
In 1947, Agustin Peralta Fimbres, my grandfather, owned a small grocery store in a Mexican neighborhood near downtown Phoenix, Arizona. He also started a spice company called Chili King, where he packaged and distributed spices such as red chile, oregano, comino, menudo mix, saladitos, cinnamon sticks, pinolé, and piloncillo. Tata Agustin spoke little English, was an honest businessman, highly involved in his community and had very high work ethics.
Upon Tata Agustin’s retirement, my father, Bernardo “Lalo” Peralta Samaniego, was called to run Chili King. Papa Lalo had served honorably in the U.S. Navy during WWII and subsequently worked as a farmer and cattle rancher in Bavispe, Sonora, Mexico. Once Papa Lalo took over the reins of the business, he often travelled to Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, and to New Mexico to purchase 55-gallon drums of chile and spices. His hard work at Chili King enabled Papa Lalo to make a humble living for his eight children and wife.
We children worked part-time at Chili King packing spices after school, but Papa Lalo insisted that schoolwork be a priority. He underscored the importance of a college education and a career that fed your soul and your family. His dream was for his children to prosper and thrive in America.
While Papa Lalo travelled and ran the business, my mother, Elisa “Licha” Olivas Peralta ran a loving home. She ensured we had everything to support our education and also fostered an environment filled with faith, integrity and moral well-being. She dedicated many hours cooking the best homemade traditional Mexican meals.
Papa Lalo and Mama Licha were the quintessential representation of teamwork.
Chicamonina (chee-kuh moh-nee-nuh) Joins The Family Business
Once my older siblings went away to college, it was my turn to work at Chile King. At 12 years old, like my siblings, I packed bags of cinnamon sticks, saladitos (salty dried plums popular with the field laborers), piloncillo, and menudo mix. Even though my parents provided a wonderful home, excellent homemade food and a good parochial school education, I was grateful for my weekly compensation, and proud to be contributing to the family business.
As a child, I spent my summers with my aunt, cousins and siblings in the small Mexican farming town of Banamichi, Sonora, Mexico. I would be assigned chores, but I was mostly drawn to the tasks related to food – such as roasting raw coffee beans in a pan over mesquite wood and grinding the coffee by hand in the molino (mill grinder). I did not consider these real chores, because I enjoyed learning about food.
The farmers of Banamichi grew chile verde, elote (corn) and zucchini. My favorite food of all time is tamales de elote – yummy! My older cousin, Juanita Aguilar Olivas, showed me how to roast the chile verde and de-grain the elote. My job also entailed grinding the elote by hand in the same molino used for the coffee beans. We spent the day preparing and spreading masa onto the fresh corn husks. I learned a lot from Juanita about making food based on the harvests from the local farms.
After receiving a science and advanced business degree, I enjoyed a long and prosperous career at top aerospace firms; travelling the world and expanding my horizons. But I never lost my passion for cooking and creating recipes. My artistic creative side continued to call to me through cooking.
When I wasn’t working or traveling on business, I participated in foodie events, toured foodie shows, hosted cooking clubs, spent way too many hours watching food TV, and read many articles, blogs etc. related to ethnic food. I really enjoyed cooking for my friends and family. This was clearly my passion.
When I moved to New England, I was blessed to have many foodie friends. We had green chile roasting parties with fresh chile verde that I flew in from New Mexico. I recall a time after returning to Connecticut from Arizona, when I brought back a large suitcase full of chile verde on the plane. The neighbors came over after smelling the roasting - it was their first time smelling and eating roasted chile verde.
While I still regularly visited my family in Arizona, where I would spend days cooking with them, I had a deep yearning for real authentic Mexican food in New England, especially tasty, pure, earthy chile colorado.
One day in the fall of 2017, I made chile colorado con pollo. The reaction from my friends was effusive. Over the next several weeks, I continued to think about ways to make good tasting chile colorado accessible to the people of New England. Finally, I concluded that the best way to make it accessible is to create a Mexican chile colorado mix from the best dried red chile from New Mexico. It would be free of preservatives and chemicals, and paramount that it come from sun-dried pure chile – de-stemmed, de-seeded and hand crafted with savory spices. It would be authentic Mexican- the real deal: clean, tasty, flavorful and easy to prepare at home.
This is how this business was born. So, what does this have to do with Chicamonina you ask? Well, Chicamonina is the nickname that my father gave me, which means LOVE! Chicamonina is a term of endearment for a special person in your life; a person toward whom love is felt.
My products are handcrafted, special, and made with a lot of love and care. This business is born of my history, my family and the love we shared for each other, the family spice business, and great home-made food. The business embodies Chicamonina.