Despite moving to NZ in 2005, there is no mistaking Amber Sturtz’s accent. Raised in a hotspot for Tex-Mex food, Austin, Texas, is it any wonder that she finds herself completely and utterly obsessed with tacos?
When you find yourself living away from your country of origin, one of the first things that you reach out for is the comfort food of that country. Occasionally hankering for familiar flavours that remind you of family, friends, and the culture in which you were raised is a common condition of the ex-pat. Anyone who has ever experienced good Tex-Mex food will know that it's well worth craving.
Over the years you have probably seen Amber at various markets and festivals around the Wellington region. Her business has evolved and adapted to become the thriving little powerhouse it now is.
Like most small business owners, Amber is a one-[wo]man-band when it comes to the day to day operations. When big catering jobs come her way, she has a team of chefs that she calls on to help. We spent the morning with Amber, taking a few pretty pictures of her production process and asking a few questions about the evolution of Taco Addicts. This is what she had to say....
Q. How long have you been producing at crave?
A. "Hard question because I keep coming up with different business ideas!
However, Taco Addicts started in September 2016".
Q. Tell us about tacos
A. "A taco is a tortilla that has a filling, sort of like a sandwich. You can fold it, or you can wrap it. In the same way that a bun is not a hamburger until you put ingredients inside to make a hamburger. A tortilla becomes a taco when the filling has been added.
I make flour and wholemeal tortillas and sell them at Moore Wilsons. I make corn tortillas as well, but I only sell them at markets and festivals where I make ready to eat tacos.
I also make a Salsa Roja. Roja means red in Spanish. It's basically a spicy red sauce that you can put on any taco. It's the go to salsa for a lot of tacos. Onions, chilies, tomatoes, coriander, some acidity, garlic. It depends on the heat of the chilli. My Salsa Roja is medium to hot and is also available at Moore Wilson."
Q. Where can Wellingtonians find your delicious creations?
A. "Festivals, markets, and events as well as catering. At the moment you can find me at the Cuba Street Friday night market and monthly Vegan Vault. I always have vegan and vegetarian options, as well as dairy free, gluten free, sugar free."
Q. Why did you choose to make tacos?
A. "I grew up in Austin, Texas. Austin has a fabulous Tex-Mex food scene. Being so close to Mexico but also with a lot of Mexicans and Latin Americans around, Austin has created its own taco scene. If you threw a rock, you would probably hit a taqueria. The food is great, and fresh, and inventive, and I wanted to bring a part of that to Wellington. Embracing the seasonality of food in NZ, using NZ ingredients and showing the people of Wellington what Tex-Mex food really is, as opposed to the idea that a lot of people have of Tex-Mex [which is essentially yellow cheese, sour-cream, ground beef and cheap ingredients]. In Austin, it's fresh, it's delicious, it's inspired by Mexico, but it uses the ingredients that Texans have available and really love. So, in Texas you can get a BBQ taco because Texans love BBQ, or you can find tacos with different vegetables that are common in the States, but you wouldn't necessarily eat regularly in Mexico. There are all these different options and I wanted to do that but with Wellington ingredients."
Q. What brought you to NZ?
A. "I came to NZ in 2005 on a working holiday visa with a friend. Long story short - I fell in love with a Kiwi, but we split up. I really liked NZ, so I stayed; several few years later I retrained as a chef and changed career tracks, and this year I'll be eligible for citizenship. So, 12 and a half years later... I'm still here!"
Q. Do you notice a big difference between the produce that is available in the States and NZ produce?
A. "Definitely. I notice it mostly in the produce that would be used in traditional Tex-Mex and Mexican food. Austin is really close to Mexico and with NAFTA, there is huge trade between Mexico and the United States. That means that at any time of year, we can get fruits and vegetables that come from Mexico; limes, tomatoes, courgettes, squashes, avocado, chilis, corn – a lot of these things that grow year-round in Mexico because Mexico is a big country and has variations in its climate. We don't have that in NZ. We don't have chilis in the middle of August or tomatoes in July and if you do try and buy them, they were probably grown hydroponically, and they taste like nothing. So, you have to find ways to work around. I try to create tacos that use NZ seasonal ingredients; ideally grown locally in either Kapiti or the Wairarapa."
Q. Where is your favourite place to eat in Wellington?
A. "I don't eat out very often but when I do I like Mr Go’s. They are seasonal, sustainable and make everything themselves, which I think, in this climate of being able to get anything from anywhere is important. The consumer pays the same no matter how it was produced so you might as well get something that was made from scratch. There is a lot of love in it, and you know exactly what's going into it."
Q. What's been your biggest challenge as a small producer?
A. "There are so many challenges! Probably one of them is knowing how to grow but not wear yourself out. I only supply the tortillas to Moore Wilsons because they are made by hand and it takes me a full day to make the Moore Wilsons order. I would love to supply other stores, if they were interested in the tortillas, but to do that I would need another day to produce. I don't want a business where all I do is make tortillas because that's not all that I'm interested in. What I am really interested in is making the tacos; the tortillas are like a side project that generates a bit of extra income, helps spread the brand and assists people to eat healthy tacos at home that are delicious and become taco addicts themselves. If I wanted to expand I would need to hire someone, produce another day, or buy some expensive equipment. I would need to work out all the cost benefits to determine if that is worth it. It's a challenge."
Q. What do you like about producing in the Crave Production Kitchen?
A. I really like that there are a lot of small businesses that are producing here. It feels like a nice collaboration. When you are in here with other people and you can ask advice and find out what people are up to, discuss ideas and how to do things better – that’s really great. For example, when I was trying to get into Moore Wilsons I got heaps of advice from the ladies at Ritual Tea and Montfoort about what questions to ask, where to do my shelf-life testing, etc. It was super valuable because I had never done that before, and now I know so I can help newer producers, like Anna from the Oatery with her questions. It's nice to have people to talk to because when you work by yourself, you spend a lot of time alone, and you often end up talking to yourself.
Q. What’s your food philosophy?
A. Eat fresh, eat seasonal, eat less processed foods, eat more vegetables, and try to eat less meat.
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