Meet Sam Oteo. A visionary man with a small beginning. The Tortilla Bar in south Orem is the bi-product of his hard work and a piece of his dream with an amazing back story.
Oteo was born in Mexico, but moved with his family shortly after to California. He had a visa, but wasn’t able to go to school for awhile, so he decided to look for a job while his father attended school. That is where his wildly successful cooking career began.
Photo by Paloma Marketing and Enco Oteo
my father to see if he was interested in the job.”
But, Oteo didn’t pass on the message, and instead showed up at PaggLicci an hour later, determined to get the job.
Even after the manager accused him of being too young, he lied about his age and jumped in as a dish washer. The 14-year- old soon worked his way up in the fine dining Italian restaurant in San Diego.
“It is the school of life,” he said. “You do little by little and that’s how you work your way up. But, I was a good cook to tell you the truth.”
Oteo had a gift and it didn’t take others long to discover it. He moved around from restaurant to restaurant working as sou
chef to head chef in various fine dining kitchens from Los Angeles to Denver. He had family in Utah that he would visit occasionally and he ended up working
as a chef at the Tree House restaurant in Sundance for awhile.
“I really worked a very short time, but everything just worked and clicked,” he said. “A kitchen is truly a family. I was amazed at what I was capable of doing, what I had.”
Oteo was encouraged by others to take his talent and start something of his own. Thus, the Tortilla Bar in Orem was born. But, after all his years of working in fine dining restaurants, Oteo had realized that he wanted to create something else.
“I realized that there is no need to spend that much money for food,” he said. “I want to make delicious food for the common people, the rebels.”
He combined his skills from
different kitchens and cuisines to blend his recipes for the Tortilla Bar. Although he uses Mexican techniques, the food will have French and Japanese infused flavor. But, Oteo is passionate about supporting local products and services. He scouted out many local farmers and partnered up with them to create his fresh, made-from- scratch dishes.
“You can support local business,” he said. “You build a relationship of trust and loyalty. This will be regional Mexican food because it is here in Utah with products from Utah. There are Mexican techniques, but Mexican food does not exist here.”
Along with supporting local farmers, Oteo also has a goal to showcase local art in his cantina. Different artists will be able to display their photography or paintings for 15-30 days.
“I mainly want to support those people that think outside the box,” he said.
Although Oteo is passionate about food and creating amazing dishes, he realized that, more than that, he just loves people.
“I love people and I think food is just the bi-product of communication,” he said. “I want to express myself to people through food.”