“I think, first of all, that New York needs to grow some balls and get real Mexican food.” Oh boy. To be fair, Teqa chef Chris Goossen — speaking in a slight surfer patois and in a style that many have grown to call straight talk — comes from Southern California. It’s a place where — more straight talk — the tacos are way better than NYC and where Gooseen runs the wildly popular Knockout Taco Truck. “There are only three good taco trucks in LA,” he continues. Love this guy!
He’s been in NYC for the past couple months to help shape the menu at the Murray Hill upstart. The chef’s recon began with the tortillas — which everybody knows is the foundation of any taco endeavor. After a week he was tipped off to Nixtamal in Corona, Queens. “They actually make a very, very good product,” he admits. But compared with LA? “Their product would be considered good.”
Next up was honing his list of authentic (carne asada, pollo, “el ghetto” with ground sirloin) and global tacos. The latter category, inspired by the cooking of Japan and Central Texas, are not really fusion. Goossen, a former street fighter who found a career in the culinary arts after shattering his hand in a brawl, wants to punch that word in the face. And after sampling the goods, we’d have to agree that it’s hardly fried chicken Bolognese lettuce wraps. Guy Fieri: Please don’t steal my idea.
Tacos stuffed separately with jalapeño teriyaki chicken and blackened shrimp ignited with Cajun salsa are not crossing borders but booming with national pride. A Oaxacan fish entree is described as if “Nobu hailed from Mexico.” Think as if you wrapped Nobu’s world-famous miso cod in a tortilla. Gooseen rubs ancho chili and sugar over the daily catch, which takes on an uncanny resemblance to the dish.
So how’s NYC treating Goossen, who once served as Mark Wahlberg’s private chef for five years? Will New Yorker’s taco palette ever come around? Eventually. Maybe. He explains.
When you look at New York City’s taco scene, we’re obviously not LA. We’re really far behind LA. What did you think NYC needed?
Professionally, it’s been a little bit of a bummer for me. Meaning, I had to dumb down all the spice in my salsa. The Mexicans in my kitchen were looking at me like, “This ain’t salsa.” I was like, “I know, I know!” But being here two months already, I’ve started to gradually kick it up to almost the level that I like it at. There’s a little more spice to it every single day.
So New York needs some heat.
It’s mainly spice. Spice is the main difference. In LA, I’ll put it this way, I had this one taco, a blackened shrimp with bacon-cheese grits and Cajun salsa. My Cajun salsa out there, for five pounds of red bell peppers I added 30 habaneros, 30 jalapeños, and 30 serranos. That’s 90 peppers in five pounds. That’s just burning. And let me tell you, it’s probably my biggest seller at my truck. Out here? I have 10 habeneros and 4 jalapeños and people are just like, “I can’t take this!”
You cook in a style that some would call Mexican-Asian fusion, which is something that I’m personally skeptical about.
Actually, I don’t.
Oh you don’t? So, teriyaki chicken tacos are not fusion?
You used the word that I can’t freaking stand, which is “fusion.” I consider that confusion, ok? Everybody else will sit there and make a kung pao chicken and they’re going to put a Mexican tomatillo salsa on it and then put that into a taco. That doesn’t make sense to me. What I do is develop dishes in my 20 years of experience that are mini appetizers. I adapt those for a tortilla. So my jalapeño teriyaki chicken with marinated cucumbers — every bit of that flavoring is Japanese. The difference is that it happened to be in a tortilla.
You served as Mark Wahlberg’s personal chef. So, yeah, that must have been cool. Did you get your cameo in Entourage?
No, I actually turned down every single thing he’s ever offered me in regards to being on camera. It’s not what I cared to do. So, I was there to work, get him what he needed, take care of him, and have a great fucking time.
What were you making preparing for him?
I was pretty much with him 24/7, cooking eight to nine meals a day. I just kind of cook whatever the hell I wanted. The only thing that was set in stone was that Thursday was always Thanksgiving food. I always roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, you name it.
Thursday!? Every Thursday was Thanksgiving?
That’s so cool. I love it.
Yeah, you love it. It was probably my worst nightmare ever. I was just so tired of cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Where did you travel with him?
We were taking private jets everywhere, which wasn’t too shabby. We flew to Paris a few times, did some stints in Florida, stayed in New York a few times, lived in the Trump for like six months. We just flew everywhere, drove everywhere, and we were in Canada couple dozen times. That was pretty much it. We had some good trips, I’ll say that much.
Cooking was a big part of Entourage too, so I’m sure that the Johnny Drama character is based a little on you?
I’ll tell you—if you can actually analyze Entourage you’ll see that the first three years it was kind of hard and the guys were really funny, getting laid, and partying. And then it sort of turned and went professional. Let’s just say that myself and the rest of the crew kind of helped them write the first three seasons.
I can believe that.
Yeah so, we’d just sit and tell stories about what we did and they did in the past, and actually that character isn’t modeled after me. It’s modeled after his cousin. I was, unfortunately, more like the character Turtle, which is kind of horrific because that was how I was dressing. I always had the matching shirt, shoes and hat. Yeah, that was horrible. I didn’t like that nickname. That was a cross between me and one of his other buddies.