Twenty-three-year old Ernesto “Wachas” Garcia Hernandez of Ay! Salsa works hard to give New Haven all the sauce it needs. The food lover tells scene about his culinary influences, what he would cook for Salma Hayek, the invaluable help of his sisters, Yolanda and Yanirabel Acosta, and more importantly, he shares the secrets of the perfect arepa. What he says about his superb tres leche dessert can be extended to every excellent concoction that comes out of Ay! Salsa’s kitchen: “It looks very delicious on the plate, and it tastes very delicious in your mouth.”
Q. How’s business?
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A. Very good. People love my food, they’re getting very excited. We’ve been open five weeks, and everyone knows us.
Q. What were you doing before Ay! Salsa?
A. When I came to the USA, in 2003, from Oaxaca, my home, I started working at Roomba. Having no choice, I started as a dishwasher for two months. Then I made desserts for six months. I love making the desserts. I can do any kind of dessert. Tres leche is my favorite. I love sweet things. I can eat ice creams every day. I was doing very good. I can make all kinds of mousses — banana mousse, chocolate mousse. I make a delicious coffee mousse. It looks very delicious on the plate, and it tastes very delicious in your mouth.
Q. How do you feel about the importance of presentation in the culinary arts?
A. Soon, I want to take a picture of each plate and put them up on the wall. Fine cuisine taught me about nice presentation. Nice flavor is not enough. It has to look beautiful.
Q. Ay! Salsa looks beautiful.
AThank you very much.
Q. What do you love, and do you love New Haven?
A. I love baseball. I was a really good pitcher in high school. Everybody loves you when you pitch well. My nickname was Wachas, Wachas the pitcher. Everybody knew Wachas.
Q. And what about New Haven?
A. I love New Haven.
A. Because it has everything — stores, the mall in Milford, forests in East Rock, good restaurants, very good restaurants. You feel like you are in New York.
Q. What is your favorite Web site?
A. My favorite Web site is Gmail. It used to be Hotmail, but I switched to Gmail. I don’t have time for food blogs because I work too much.
Q. How do you service so many with just two stoves?
A. I was working in Roomba before we opened Ay! Salsa. Roomba was a small kitchen, as small as this. I was working with Franco Camacho, a very good chef. He taught me that we can make a lot of reservations in just one day — over 250 people in one day. From 5:30 to 10:30 we can serve 250 people, and it was only five cooks and one dishwasher. So many dishes! That’s called good business. That’s efficiency. Monday we had 160 reservations. Tuesday 175, Wednesday 220 people, Thursday 230. Everybody loves to eat!
Q. Que es arepa?
A. An arepa is a corn cake with mozzarella cheese, a little sugar, some butter. Delicious!
Q. How do you compensate for Mexican ingredients you can’t find in the U.S.?
A. We go to a restaurant depot; it’s like Home Depot for ingredients. We buy everything there. It’s very cheap and very good — it’s the same food as everywhere else but cheaper. All the restaurants buy there.
Q. How did you come up with Ay! Salsa, as a name?
A. My brother Franco decided on the name. He liked the “ay!” It’s really catchy. Students going by say “ayyyyy salsa.” Or “ayyyyy.” Or “ayyyy papi.” It’s a good name.
Q. Where in the world is your brother Franco?
A. He is in Mexico trying to open another restaurant — it’s going to be the same concept, except a sit-down, in Oaxaca. I miss Franco.
Q. Who are all these ladies who help you run the restaurant.
A. They are Yolanda, who is my sister, and Janirabel Acosta, who is my sister-in-law. But I do all of the cooking.
Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. I start at 8 a.m. to cook. I cook for the cart and for the restaurant — all the meats and the porks. It takes three hours just to cook. Then I’m at the cart from 11-3. Then I come back to the restaurant and cook all day until 10!
Q. Who is your favorite chef?
A. Bobby Flay, from “Iron Chef America.” I love Bobby Flay. I love him because he’s the most popular chef. Everybody wants to be him. He cooks southern American food. I love Iron Chef — I get so excited for the secret ingredient category. Those guys think so fast.
Q. Who is the woman you would consider to be the most beautiful in the world? If she walked in here, what would you cook for her?
A. I love every woman. They’re all so beautiful. I’m in love with every woman. But maybe Salma Hayek, I guess. She’s very beautiful. I would cook her the fish arepa. I know she would love that.
[Yolanda, Ernesto’s sister chimes in: “I prefer the pulled pork arepa.”]
Q. How do you like Yale students?
A. I love Yale students. Ay! Salsa is for them. My brother was working the burrito cart on Broadway (the Tijuana cart), before the burrito cart wars. Then the La Caretta cart set up shop on the other side of the street — that was such a dick move. Nelly did that, but he used to work for Franco. But Franco knows a lot of kids from Yale. The restaurant is for them. They tip the best. They are so nice, so smart. They love my food.
Q. Would you rate and review this admissions video?
A. [as he watches] Your iPhone is too small. I can’t see it well at all. I like the music, very nice music … The dining halls look nice … You guys have pools!??! Very good, very catchy, the kids looks really, really happy. So smiley. Oooh, I saw this girl in the newspaper. Oh my goodness. Oh my god.