Chef aims to be catalyst for change to non-GMO corn in tortilla industry
To celebrate his business’s 25th anniversary Ivan Calderon wants to help change the tortilla industry to non-GMO production. Calderon, founder and chef of Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa restaurants in Orange County, California, is opening a new restaurant, Tortillería Orgánica & Café, that will feature a small tortilla factory for making non-GMO tortillas. With the capacity to produce 2400 tortillas per hour, the factory will provide artisan non-GMO corn masa and tortillas to all his six locations. Calderon also intends to sell his non-GMO corn products wholesale to local retailers and restaurants.
“This evolution is about something much bigger than our brand,” says Calderon. “We want to create a catalyst for change in our industry, both locally and worldwide. We intend to do so by selling our GMO-free corn masa and tortillas to other restaurants and by furthering the evolution of our brand by creating a replicable model that will take GMO-free corn and true Mexican cuisine overseas.”
Last February, Calderon switched to non-GMO corn at all six of his restaurant locations because of his concerns about genetically engineered corn and his passion for healthy and authentic food.
“I wanted to control my corn because our food is 30 percent corn-based,” he says. “I wanted to have good healthy corn. GMO corn is deficient; it doesn’t have much value and is exposed to Roundup. I wanted to stay away from something that may cause harm.”
Calderon initially sourced non-GMO corn from La Forteleza, a wholesale provider of Mexican food products in Los Angeles. Calderon then connected with Rovey Specialty Grain, a Nebraska-based supplier of non-GMO white and blue corn, where he now buys his corn.
Rovey tests their non-GMO corn to make sure it is not contaminated by the genetically engineered corn, Enogen, which is used for ethanol production. Enogen may be linked to a problem with corn masa sold by a Hispanic grocery chain in Los Angeles last December.
Calderon thinks the tortilla industry is becoming more aware of the importance of non-GMO. “I think they are starting to open their eyes. I tell my friends in the tortilla business that I won’t buy unless it’s non-GMO.”
Calderon’s Taco Mesa is part of a larger trend of Mexican restaurant chains using non-GMO corn. Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill with 23 locations in Southern California uses only non-GMO corn in its tortillas and chips. Nationally, Chipotle Mexican Grill transitioned to non-GMO ingredients including corn and masa for tortillas and chips in 2015. Also, Masienda is importing heirloom non-GMO corn from Mexico, which more than a hundred restaurants in the U.S. are using to make tortillas and other corn-based products.
With his new Taco Mesa—Tortillería Orgánica & Café, Calderon will also expand his offerings to include gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options, as well as organic grab-and-go fresh salads, hot entrees, aguas frescas, and organic cold-pressed juices.
In addition to non-GMO corn, Calderon sources organic greens and edible flowers from local, eco-friendly farmers and heirloom produce, and sustainably caught wild seafood whenever possible.
“My passion has always been for good, healthy, wholesome food that honors our ancestors and our bodies, and preserves the ecology of our mother earth,” Calderon says.