Who Is Sylvia?

Sylvia Casares-Copeland, chef and owner of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, answers a few burning questions:

What's your fave ingredient, right now?

Chiles and cumin -- now and forever!

Who is your culinary hero?

My grandmother, Sara Issassi Casares. She was born in 1886 in Reynosa, Mexico, had 14 children and cooked all the time. She cooked border-style. There was always a basket of hot flour tortillas and some empanadas on the table. She made calabacitas (summer squash) with corn, tomatoes, onions and pork or chicken. I make them for a lunch special some- times. When I was trying to think of something vegetarian, I came up with the idea of calabacita enchiladas. I just make them without the meat and add a little cheese.

Where do you eat on your day off?

I live out in the country in far west Fort Bend County, so on weeknights I go to Karl's on the Riverbend ["Brunch in the Alps," by Robb Walsh, February 9, 2006]. It's a half mile from my house. He makes a great potato, leek and bacon soup, and I love the chopped steak. If I wasn't watching calories, I'd eat Karl's chicken-fried chicken with cream gravy every night.

What are you drinking lately?

Cavalino Tequila; it's the new underdog tequila. They just got it at Spec's. It scored a 94 at the Tequila Olympics or whatever they call that competition. It tastes great, comes in a plain-Jane bottle and it's underpriced. I like it straight, in margaritas or on the rocks with agave nectar.

What's your fave food TV show?

I don't watch much TV!

What's your culinary philosophy?

USE FRESH INGREDIENTS!

What's the next big thing going to be?

I'm not sure. I'm a traditionalist.

What are you sick of?

People who put down Tex-Mex! I grew up in Brownsville. And I am proud to be cooking the food that I grew up eating. When people tell me they love my restaurant because the food isn't Tex-Mex, they are trying to be nice, but they are putting me and my food and background down. Like Tex-Mex isn't real cooking!

Who's your fave musicians?

For old-time ranchero music, Alejandro Fernandez, Vicente Fernandez's son. For Tex-Mex music, The Blazers, a group from L.A. that sounds like they are from south Texas. And for "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," Freddie Fender.

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh