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They Met Cute at Husk. Then Covid Sparked Their Food Journey.

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Not long ago I found myself at Mickey’s Tavern in the wee hours of the morning, intensely regretting having skipped supper. The bartender informed me that there was no kitchen, but there was a Latin food truck, Mala Vida, off of the back patio. Pressed on all sides and famished, I contorted my way through the crowd.

Outside, I was elated to find the unassuming food truck resting silently in the still night air. It was either here or the Taco Bell across the street. We decided to take our chances and ordered two tacos just as the chef was finishing the assembly of a chicken sandwich. He must have noticed how famished we looked, because without hesitation, he cut the chicken sandwich in half and pushed it toward my wife and I. “Try this.”

Our hungers reigned and we took inappropriately large bites. The look of disbelief was immediate in our eyes. Could a chicken sandwich really be THIS scrumptious?  We slowly got these big goofy grins as we chewed faster, not pausing to wipe our mouths. The flavor of the chicken was unique, dense and comforting. The breading had a moderately complex spicing structure with a crunch that was audible from across the lot. It would have made your mouth water over the phone.

By the time we had wolfed down the last bite, we were food giddy and begging for the tacos, which did not disappoint. Subsequent meals there would prove that neither did the nachos or homemade chorizo. Who the heck makes scratch chorizo anyway? Josh Cook does, using only the best cuts of pork chosen by him and spiced by his own hand. His fastidious precision permeates every aspect of his dishes, paying taste dividends with every bite. Who was this guy?

Mala Vida owners Ana Aguilar, Josh Cook and Maria Escamilla created a pan Latin fusion menu as authentic and innovative as any I have ever seen in Nashville. Their triumph was most assuredly due to their deep Latin heritage. Maria’s family was from Colombia and Ana, a California actress and baker, had parents from Mexico. She met Maria at a now defunct Puerto Rican restaurant near Cummings station. Soon, she landed a job at one of Nashville’s most respected and iconic restaurants, Husk.

Native Nashvillian Josh Cook always loved preparing innovative, boundary pushing recipes that were the exact opposite of the generic menus that he found himself cooking on lower Broadway. Torn between boring and safe versus new and exciting, fate intervened and landed him at Husk, as well, where he worked his way up from the prep line to executive sous chef. This is where he met the love of his life, Ana.

They  seemed to have the world by its big bald head, when COVID hit and transformed the restaurant industry forever. Sensing the need for a change, they polished up their culinary creations, bought a food truck, and the rest is in the process of becoming Nashville foodie lore. The “ fork in the road” provided the perfect vehicle for them to share their genius, and a brick and mortar location is in development. Imagine how envious all of your foodie friends are going to be when you nonchalantly quip, “Oh, I’ve know about these guys since their food truck days!”


Brad Blankenship

Brad Blankenship is a retired integrative medicine doctor who has resided in Nashville for over 50 years. He, along with his wife Lulu Burns-Keller travel the US in search of new flavors. Together, they write, photograph and review for Beyondish in the Nashville area and beyond.


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