On a busy Taco Tuesday at Taqueria El Fundador, Mike Gonzalez aims his camera at the fast-paced kitchen staff filling orders. As the 4 o'clock anchor at 12 News, Gonzalez is used to being in front of the camera, but for Hispanic Food Network, he is cameraman, writer, and director.
Hispanic Food Network is run by Gonzalez and his good friend Al Martinez. Gonzalez's passion for food and community drives the project. A Miami native, Gonzalez has lived in various states around the country as a student and news anchor. It was in 2010, while working in Washington state, that he searched the internet for a Cuban recipe.
"I Googled 'Hispanic Food Network,' intuitively thinking the Food Network had a spinoff," he says.
When no results came up, Gonzalez bought the domain name. He and a friend decided to pitch a cooking show called En La Cocina (In The Kitchen) to his bosses at Spokane's ABC-affiliate station. "We scraped up enough funds to buy equipment, and we put together four pilots," he says. The show worked and they ran over 40 episodes, which aired across the Northwest. But after the show ran its course, HFN's team went their separate ways and the show was shelved for several years.
Fast-forward to 2018, when Gonzalez moved to Phoenix and joined 12 News. "I realized how special the Latino food scene is here," he says. He found himself in a Cuban restaurant with the desire to talk once again about Hispanic food. "That sparked my interest," he says.
He asked the owner to appear on a video for his blog and wrote an accompanying article. In a matter of months, HFN's Facebook page more than doubled in likes.
Hispanic Food Network's website features Valley restaurants, chefs, and food events, like the Micheladas Fest 2019 happening tomorrow, or a profile on Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (a Phoenix Hispanic cooking legend), or a visit to Cuban Foods Bakery and Restaurant.
The show also highlights what led to the creation of the network — recipes. But Gonzalez knows that social media is key to growing a community. He enjoys engaging with HFN's Facebook followers when they offer suggestions (like recommending Taqueria El Fundador at 33rd Avenue and Van Buren Street for an episode) and other useful comments. In turn, he shares recipes, blog updates, and upcoming events.
On average, Gonzalez spotlights three restaurants a month, doing everything from shooting the video, editing, and narration. The goal is to grow a community that enjoys Hispanic food and wants to share that love. He also aims to find support for the community by looking to partner with organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as expanding the reach of small businesses.
When asked why he puts so much work and effort into a job that doesn't earn him any money, Gonzalez responds, "I'm doing this because I love it and it really showcases Hispanic culture. I'm having a good time doing it."
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