Chef Kevin (a veteran Valley chef) and “Cheffette” Maria Lebron’s pop-up concept Pachamama has, as they say, goddess power behind it.
Its namesake is an indigenous Andean deity who presides over planting and harvesting. The name translates to "Mother Earth."
Pachamama is a plant-based food business, and the Lebrons stay away from mock meats.
“We don’t use soy-based products," Maria says. "We try to focus strictly on veggies and fruits without the processing.”
When the Lebrons launched Pachamama earlier this year, they started doing four to five pop-ups per week at various Valley restaurants and events, and at the Downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market every Saturday. The concept’s mission, “global flavors with a Latin twist using simple yet innovative ingredients,” quickly caught on.
Then COVID hit.
They've been weathering the pandemic by making deliveries and offering pre-packaged meals at farmers’ markets. But the Lebrons work well together — they are actually married high school sweethearts, and have been together for 18 years.
“I think a lot of it for us has been identifying our key strengths and allowing each other to be strong in those areas," Maria says.
That's coming in particularly handy now, as the Lebrons plan to open a brick-and-mortar location of Pachamama by the end of August. It'll be located at 19th Avenue and Indian School Road and offer takeout and curbside pickup. (Follow along on Instagram for updates on the opening.)
Plant-based specialties like Chipotle Cashew Crema Mac, Turmeric Farro Salad, and Avocado Tostado will be available at the new spot. That includes the most popular dish, Tacos de Papa: crispy tacos stuffed with a chile garlic mash, radishes in a savory marinade, cilantro, and smoked almonds, topped with Pachamama’s secret sauce — an almond-chile de arbol salsa.
“I was raised on Tacos de Papa, which are mashed potato tacos, but nothing like the doctored-up version that we have today,” Maria says. “That’s been really fun because culturally, there are a lot of people who grew up with them and they’ve tried ours and say, ‘Oh man, they’re better than our nonna’s, but just don't tell her that.’”
Pachamama’s roots were planted in 2018, when Maria went completely plant-based in her diet, a move made due to health concerns. The cancer survivor and longtime endometriosis sufferer says she wanted to heal through better food.
“I believe in self-healing. I believe our bodies are much more powerful than we give them credit for,” she says. “So, when I was enlightened with the power of plant-based eating and how it can truly reverse some of these diseases that our bodies might experience, it was really exciting for me.”
Maria, a cosmetologist who had her own salon studio prior to Pachamama, turned to her husband for support. Kevin is a longtime Phoenix chef and has worked for Conceptually Social catering, Kaizen PHX, and Chelsea’s Kitchen. He was happy to approach the stove for his wife.
Their ideas about flavor mesh as well.
“We love spice — any type of peppers, especially serrano peppers,” Maria says. “I love heart of palm, which is very nutritious. We love garlic as a base. And then, of course with plant-based, you’ve got to utilize the potato in some creative ways as well.”
Once Pachamama’s permanent location is up and running, the Lebrons say their next step is to grow their own ingredients.
“We buy from local farms and some restaurant suppliers, but eventually we would love to partner with farms to be able to grow our own,” Maria says, hinting at a future phase for the Lebrons.
“That’s a goal of ours, to have a farm eventually," Maria says, "so that we can know exactly where everything is being sourced.”
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