29 Year-Old Chef in The Bronx Makes 3,000 to 4,000 Tamales Every Week

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29 Year-Old Chef in The Bronx Makes 3,000 to 4,000 Tamales Every Week

City Tamale makes tamales in Hunt's point in the Bronx. (Courtesy of Clayton Walters)

City Tamale makes tamales in Hunt's point in the Bronx. (Courtesy of Clayton Walters)

City Tamale makes tamales in Hunt's point in the Bronx. (Courtesy of Clayton Walters)

City Tamale makes tamales in Hunt's point in the Bronx. (Courtesy of Clayton Walters)

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By Clayton Walters

At 4 a.m. each morning, 29-year-old chef and restaurant owner Israel Veliz comes into work to make tamales. He first opens the restaurant, called City Tamale, then begins the process of making 3,000 to 4,000 tamales every week.

“Anybody that works in the restaurant industry knows it’s a lot of hours,” said Veliz. “The restaurant opens at 5:30 a.m., and my day goes from about 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

The restaurant specializes in Mexican tamales, including chiles with cheese, green salsa with chicken and pork in red salsa.

Veliz first opened City Tamale in Hunt’s Point in the Bronx in 2016. The idea to open City Tamale came to Veliz in 2014 when he was enrolled in college.

“I was majoring in marketing, and we had to create a product and launch it,” said Veliz. “I thought it was so interesting, creating an idea and bringing it to life. I always liked the food industry. I have been working in the industry since I was 15 years old. So it just made sense. I took what I learned from school and from my restaurant experience and created a brand around tamales.”

The recipe for the tamales came from Veliz’s mother. Veliz spent most of his life with his mother, moving back and forth between Mexico and the United States. At the age of five, he moved from New York City to Mexico.

“The tamales represent my culture,” said Veliz. “I grew up in Mexico for 10 years. I have memories of myself going to school and stopping on the way to buy tamales for breakfast.”

Veliz makes the tamales in the restaurant every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. The tamale process starts with creating the masa dough and making sure that it is both fluffy and airy, according to Veliz.

The tamales are then assembled, and the masa dough gets spread evenly onto the corn husks that have been soaked in water to hydrate. The tamales are filled, usually with pork or chicken, and rolled in wax paper.

“It is a lot of work,” commented Veliz. “Tamales are very tedious to make, requiring a lot of hands-on care.”

After 10 years in Mexico, Veliz moved back to New York City to study and find better opportunities.

“It was hard when I came back from Mexico,” said Veliz. “It is very difficult going to a country with a different language. I did not speak English, and it was hard, just like any immigrant coming from a different country adapting to a new environment.”

“Being born in the United States definitely influences who you are in the future,” said Veliz. “But also, being exposed to my Mexican heritage has shaped who I really am. I am a little bit of both countries. I do consider myself Mexican but also American.”

Veliz mentions that he sees a lot of himself in the City Tamale restaurant, being both American and Mexican.

“Our food is influenced by Mexican cuisine, but it’s not Mexican, it’s also American,” said Veliz. “Because we are in New York, we are exposed to a much different clientele. We had to adapt our product to fit that need. We had to create new items not on the menu to better serve our community.”

City Tamale offers a wide range of tamales, which include a sweet pumpkin tamale and ingredients such as Hot Cheetos and Oreo cookies. City

Tamale also has created non-spicy tamales, vegan tamales and vegetarian tamales.

“Our food also reflects the trends that are happening,” said Veliz. “Everyone is trying to eat more healthier.”

Being located in Hunt’s Point, City Tamale’s clientele mostly consists of people from blue-collar, working class families, according to Veliz.

“Hunt’s Point is an industrial neighborhood,” said Veliz. “We mainly serve garbage disposal workers, meat market workers and employees from other factories at affordable prices.”

Veliz said he hopes that he can act as an inspiration for Hispanic immigrants in New York City.

“City Tamale is valuable for Spanish-Americans because they see someone from the same background making it and being successful in America,” said Veliz. “I want to bring hope to people.”

He said he is planning on expanding City Tamale nationwide and even moving the business to other countries.

Currently, City Tamale is located at 1316 Oak Point Avenue in the Bronx and is open Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.