There’s an educational component to everything Angela Salamanca creates, from Centro, her celebrated restaurant in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, to the atmospheric mezcal bar Gallo Pelón. And now, her latest project is Ex Voto, co-owned by her long-time collaborator Marshall Davis. It’s both a roving pop-up and part of an upcoming food hall. Ex Voto makes tacos and tamales, with a strong focus on the process behind masa dough. Ex Voto purchases heirloom Mexican corn through a sustainable wholesaler. The kernels are then put through the traditional softening and extraction process of nixtamalization, cooking corn in hot water with calcium hydroxide. They sourced their hulking, 2ft-3ft corn grinder through a boutique distributor, and setting it up entailed a lot of trial and error. But it’s all worth it to make authentic masa from scratch, with nixtamalized corn and water.
Ex Voto staff have also taken research and immersion trips to Oaxaca, Mexico, where Colombian-raised Angela had a formative visit prior to opening Centro 13 years ago. Marshall and other Ex Voto team members have visited the region to taste foods, learn about local history, and visit the community molino. On a recent trip, they even did some cooking, taking two “corn heavy” classes with the famed Chef Pilar Cabrera of La Olla Restaurante.
With one Colombian owner and one who is a native North Carolinian, preparations for Ex Voto have also included some healthy discussions about identity, authenticity, and experimentation. Some recent offbeat offerings include fried cheese skirt tacos, lemon-lime soda roasted chicken, and a roasted carrot tamale that’s inspired by carrot cake. Angela and Marshall are eager to mix a reverence for tradition with an omnivorous sense of play and to share their love for the food traditions of Oaxaca with their community in North Carolina. Part of this means bringing the process out from the kitchen – to be a full participant in how they brand themselves – with the name Ex Voto Cocina Nixtamal.
This story appears in the “Planting For The Future” episode of Earth Eats.