Succulent pork rib confit over spicy almond mole, juicy birria specials, and irresistible carnitas quesadillas are dishes you can expect from Chingón taco truck, crafted through close relationships and an enduring love for Mexican cuisine.
Justin and Mariah Forstmann run Chingón taco truck in the courtyard at Mass MoCA Wednesdays to Fridays until late fall. The Forstmanns describe the cuisine at Chingón as Mexican-inspired, or honored, with a Berkshire twist.
Justin and Mariah formed their foundation in Mexican cooking when they became close to the owners of the restaurant Nuestra Cocina in Portland, Benjamin and Shannon Gonzales, when they worked there.
The Forstmanns’ gratitude and community-oriented natures came through in the many warm stories they told. Justin recalls the beginning of the relationship that helped inspire Chingón, when Keith interviewed Justin they had tamales.
“I hadn’t really tried real Mexican food. [Where I grew up] I thought nachos were Mexican. Oh, wow cheese sauce,” he says and laughs. “The first time we sat down for an interview we were eating. We had made a small meal for the interview – cornhusk tamales. I was starting to eat the corn husk. He looks and he goes ‘What are you doing? You don’t eat that part. That’s just what you cook it in.” and I realized my entire life I’d been eating cornhusks.“
This past March Justin and Mariah traveled to Mexico City for three weeks. On recommendations from Keith and Shannon, the Forstmanns spent that time having conversations with people there about the cuisine and cooking techniques. They told people that they had a taco truck.
“A lot of the people I talked to are like ‘it makes me proud of where I come from. It makes me proud to be Mexican, that you guys are taking our cuisine and doing it the right way’”
Both Justin and Miariah have experience in restaurants — first growing up in the Northwest corner of Connecticut, where they met as children, and then in the food scene in Portland, Oregon where they were introduced to Portland’s food trucks.
Justin and Mariah had experience working in restaurants, Justin as a line cook and Mariah as front of house with no formal cooking experience before the truck. Quick to learn, Mariah learned to cook from Justin, primarily, but also from friends, and self-teaching with online resources.
Both of them experienced a vibrant momentum in Portland’s food truck culture, she said, growing from a rule that to sell alcohol, a restaurant also has to serve food, food trucks would come together in pods, around ten to twelve trucks gathered around a fire pit. With the rule to sell alcohol you must also provide food service in the state of Oregon, Mariah described the energy of the scene as vibrant and having momentum.
In the Berkshires, Mariah has found a similar excitement in Chingón’s collaborations with others in the community, from the Airport Rooms and Williams College to Cantina 229 in Sheffield, where they are Monday and Tuesday.
They call Cantina 229 ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Food and Beverage Tanglewood’ she said, because of all the people that would come and sit down on the lawn with blankets. She told us that they loved the Airport Rooms and that the area and people were wonderful. The Forstmanns wanted to own their food truck for a long time and Covid propelled them to act on those dreams.
They also wanted to move closer to their families. Justin discussed the food truck with his father, Eric Forstmann at Eckert Fine Art, who had a distinctive self-employed attitude as an artist who supported six children.
He lived by the idea “The only person who can get you to work is yourself,” Justin said.
Justin talked about how proud his father was of them. His father was “infinitely proud” of them, he said, and has supported them from the beginning — he was there with them when they bought the truck. His father had no question that they could start a new business in the pandemic, — he was 100% confident that they could do it. Justin said “All right, he believes in us, we will make it happen.”
Their set-up in Mass MoCA was as ideal as it was able to be. Bright Ideas Brewery needed restaurants to serve food to stay open. They operated Chingón on the days that A-Ok wasn’t open. Mariah says they enjoy the energy, cooperation, and community in the Mass MoCA courtyard. They are anchoring the courtyard now that A-Ok has closed.
Mariah told us about their hopes for the future. They want to open a brick and mortar restaurant and to stay in North Adams. Mariah noted that she feels a new energy in the town’s reemergence and creative spirit and desire to do things differently. There’s a certain building in North Adams that she particularly loves, the blue building on Eagle Street with open windows and bricks behind, where the Plant Connector used to be. She can imagine their restaurant there and talks about their visit to the charming and lit-up night market on Eagle Street a few months ago.
Covid has brought unexpected and new challenges. They’ve had difficulties with the supply chain, Justin said, but no matter what obstacle they face on a particular day or special event, they adapt to keep serving food. They get local produce for many of their dishes and “. . . are able to showcase all the beautiful bounty that the Berkshires provide [them] in a really fun and bright way… the real thing that you’re tasting is the tomatoes that people put their love and soul into.”
They don’t feel like they get much of a break, but people wanting to be fed motivates them — even on their days off. They will find themselves back in the truck when a regular comes once a year to the area from California and emails Justin and Mariah to say how excited they are to come back to the taco truck.
The Forstmanns work Wednesday through Friday at Mass MoCA, often spend Saturdays doing weddings, and then spend Mondays and Tuesdays across the county in Sheffield.
Justin described some of their upcoming recipe plans with Cantina 229, emphasizing how he’d like to cook something that takes a long time and invite the community, supporters, fans, and friends to enjoy it.
“I’ll take a big hotel pan and tightly wrapped the pork in banana leaves and then low and slow, like 18, 19 hours, like 200 degrees until right about when the lease starts to give up. Then you just undo the little bundle, nail, these fall out, and then you’re left with this perfectly cooked pork shoulder that when you point your finger at it in an aggressive manner. It’ll shred itself. It’s just that tender.”
“The creatives, I think when they were posed with a problem, this problem being a horrible pandemic, instead of taking a step back, I think they changed the way they thought about things,” Justin said, warmly looking over the North Adams creative scene. “… It’s not really capitalizing on a bad thing, but it’s just making the most out of something when you have no other option — it’s great.”