Lorenza Llamas dreamed the American dream: to have a successful business and leave a lasting legacy for her family. She was more than successful at accomplishing both. Known as Poco to everyone who knew her, this small woman with a big heart had even bigger aspirations.
Long-time friend and former employer, Chef Sean Cummings from Oklahoma City tells of Lorenza’s evolution as a dishwasher in his busy Kansas City restaurant, The Grille on Broadway, to the owner of several successful taco and burrito trucks and finally to opening Poco’s on the Boulevard in 2006.
“From the first time she showed up at the restaurant, she was a hustler - a really hard worker and a sweet, sweet lady.” Sean speaks fondly of the tiny woman who didn’t know much English, but understood food like few he had ever met.
Every night at the end of service, his staff would have a meal together. The first night that Lorenza worked for him, she politely ate the food, but Sean could tell that she really didn’t enjoy it. On the second night, she asked she could prepare the food herself. And that was the start of it. She made those meals from then on.
“We were a tremendously busy restaurant, shockingly busy. We were one of the top three restaurants at the time in Kansas City and although our food was dynamite, our employee meals were even better,” Sean says.
"She took whatever scraps we had and turned them into food like I had never had before." He adds, “She just had that magic touch. Everything she made had phenomenal flavor, phenomenal depth.”
She was the first person he had met who really knew how to cook with chiles. He says that she actually created Nuevo Latino, but never received credit for it.
After the restaurant’s chef left, Sean tried to convince Lorenza to let him train her as the new chef. Although she resisted at first, she eventually did it and the restaurant become even more popular than ever.
Eventually, Sean moved to Oklahoma City, but Lorenza continued to cook her food and realize her dream. After owning several food trucks, specializing in tacos and burritos, Poco’s on the Boulevard became reality in 2006.
The restaurant saw great success until Poco was diagnosed with cancer and eventually lost her battle in 2012. As Sean so eloquently says, “It was a slow, painful demise of a beautiful, beautiful human being.”
With a smile, Sean remembers his friend as one of the toughest people he has ever known. He tells a story about how one New Year’s Eve, she cut her hand so badly while preparing a rack of lamb that the knife literally went through it, one side to the other. Not wanting to stop working or cause alarm, she simply cleaned it, wrapped it and didn’t say anything to Sean until the evening was over.
While her family still runs Poco’s, her presence is surely missed by all who knew her. She loved taking care of people and making everyone happy through her food. It’s one thing to say that food is made with love, but hers truly was. Not only that, but she did a good job of creating a family atmosphere for customers and staff alike.
The following recipe is for a classic breakfast or brunch dish that has as many variations as cooks who prepare it, but this was her recipe that was generously provided by Sean. This version is almost like Mexican lasagna, with layers of tortilla chips and cheese, all covered with a homemade tomatillo sauce and eggs.
- 2 poblano peppers
- 1 pound tomatillos
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro
- Juice of 2 limes
- 3/4 bag of day-old tortilla chips
- 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
- 10 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking dish.
Roast the poblanos over a gas burner or under the broiler until charred all over. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for 15-20 minutes until cooled. Then peel off charred skin and remove the seeds.
Peel the papery skin off tomatillos by dipping them in water first. After that, they should just come right off.
In a large saucepan, combine tomatillos, onion and garlic. Cover with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tomatillos have changed from bright green to a brownish green color.
Working in batches, transfer to a blender and puree, making sure to just pulse until steam escapes. Add cilantro and lime juice. Add salt to taste. Let cool slightly.
Place a solid layer of chips in baking dish and lightly crush with hands. Add 1 cup of the cheese and then another layer of both.
Add eggs to tomatillo sauce and mix well. Pour over chips and cheese in pan. Let stand for about 10 minutes before baking.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until set.
Makes 6-8 servings