Danny Trejo has a reputation – multiple, actually, as is befitting a man with a hand in as many industries.
As an actor, the 75-year-old is known as the ultimate tough guy from films like Heat, Desperado and Machete. As a philanthropist, Danny is known as a truly kind soul with room in his heart for everyone. And as a restauranteur, the father of three is known for taking a lifelong love of food, instilled in him by his mother, and turning it into a booming business that encompasses Trejo's Tacos, Trejo's Cantina and Trejo's Coffee and Donuts.
Now, he’s trying his hand at writing with the release of the cookbook Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A., on sale now, where he divulges secrets and shares behind-the-scenes stories from his eventful life between mouth-watering recipes for traditional (and not so traditional) Mexican dishes.
HELLO! Canada spoke to Danny about all things food and how he’s faring during isolation.
HELLO! Canada:Food has the ability to bring people together. Do you have a favourite memory of food bringing your family together?
Danny Trejo: Latino families have traditions for every Christmas, every New Year, every Wednesday... it's an excuse to throw parties, really! I remember, I was 12 or 13 years old, dancing with my mom on New Year's, eating tamales. That was the big traditional kind of meal for holidays.
With such a successful restaurant business, why did you decide to create a cookbook and essentially give your secrets away?
In order to keep it, you have to give it away. I love good food, and I love to see people eat good food. We started with one restaurant and we've got eight right now, and they're doing pretty well. I wanted to share this with everybody.
The book reads like a memoir at times.
It's kind of like my life through food. Growing up in Los Angeles, I had favorite places to stop and get a taco. Places like The Pantry, which has been around since 1919. When I was growing up, my mom, who's a great cook, had to become really imaginative. I used to ask what she was making, and she’d say, "It's called out of the cupboard. It's really good. Eat it." It would be a lot of leftovers and they were delicious. She found a way to keep it healthy.
A lot of people are doing that kind of cooking right now with lockdowns all over the world. Do you have any cooking tips for people trying to make meals out of whatever they have?
Just make sure that everything is well-cooked. The easiest thing in the world to make is a quesadilla. And all you've got to do is melt some cheese, heat some chicken and put whatever you want in it, and it's absolutely delicious.
Do you have a favourite recipe from the book?
I love the barbacoa. I make barbacoa nachos and put two eggs on top. It’s a combination of breakfast and lunch. Delicious.
Are you indulging in any junk foods during isolation?
Being 75 years old, you better take care of your body. I try to eat healthy. I'll eat eggs and a little protein for breakfast and lunch is a healthy sandwich with just one slice of bread. But for dinner, we do that meal properly.
The cookbook has a lot of healthier options and recipes. What made you decide to include them?
When we would wrap a movie, there would be a group of us that wanted to go celebrate. Inevitably there's going to be two people or three people who just have a salad because very few restaurants have all options. You're not going to find a vegan meal at Charlie's Steakhouse. They'll look at you like you're crazy. My restaurants have options for everyone. I work with autistic children and doctors that I've worked with have said autistic children don't do well with gluten. So I said “Well, let's have a gluten free menu.” Dad can bite into a cow, mom can be a vegetarian and kids have gluten-free options.
It really seems like your love of food is in your DNA. Is that something that you've tried to pass down to your kids?
Absolutely. My kids, they're foodies too. They love eating at Trejo's Cantinas, Trejo's Tacos. My daughter moved to Ohio and she's been saying, "Dad, let's start a restaurant out here near Cincinnati." So, we're thinking of possibly putting a restaurant out there and letting her run it.
You were in the news last week for bringing hundreds of meals to health care workers in your community. That’s amazing!
Those guys are like, real angels. But it’s not all me. There’s probably 10 restaurants in around where we were, I got everybody to donate 100 meals, which isn’t as big an undertaking, and then we have like 500 meals every day, and we pass them out to different hospitals. My kids' mom used to be a nurse before becoming an attorney, but now she's gone back to nursing to help. Nurses, they have that heart that has to help. I'm extra proud of her.
You’re attached to so many different causes including drug counselling, animal rescue, autism awareness and more. You’re also not slowing down in your film or food careers. How do you make time for everything?
They told me that a busy man has time to do everything. Everything good that has ever happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else. That's the way the good Lord intended us to live.