An Interview with David Gaspar de Alba, Chef/Partner

Local Hero: Best Food Truck

Co-owners David Gaspar de Alba and Daniel Linver breaking ground on Oni’s new brick-and-mortar. Photo by Stephanie Cameron.

There’s good news and bad news about Oni Food Truck. The bad news is the food truck no longer exists. The great news is that Oni is opening a restaurant in Downtown Albuquerque! They will serve a variety of Japanese-inspired food and drink, with ramen as their signature dish. Co-owners Daniel Linver and David Gaspar de Alba take pride in designing their menu around seasonal ingredients sourced almost entirely from New Mexico producers.

How did you first develop a passion for cooking?

Spending summers working on family farms gave me a true appreciation and respect for food at a young age. Born and raised in El Paso, I relocated to Portland, Oregon, just out of high school. This is where I cultivated a true love for food culture and the industry. I was in the right place at the right time. There were no shortcuts when it came to quality. The best, freshest product you could imagine was from local sources. Since moving back to the Southwest, the majority of my friends here are food producers. I couldn’t be happier.

How did the Oni food truck come about?

Oni debuted at Marble Brewery downtown New Year’s Day 2017. The winning combination of delicious Marble beer, great ambiance, Oni’s hot ramen, and chilly January weather put our noodles on Albuquerque’s food truck map. Our great friend Wade McCullough provided his kitchen trailer, and we were just a few friends who wanted to share our deep passion for food. More importantly, we wouldn’t be successful without our stellar staff! We all love working together, but I believe their real motive is eating the ramen.

As co-owner/chef at Oni, and previously as executive chef at Artichoke Cafe, you have been very committed to sourcing local. Why is this important to you, and how do you make it work?

I can talk about this for hours but I’ll keep it short. Sourcing locally is a priority and a responsibility to me as a restaurant owner. As a chef, I want to lessen my environmental impact and carbon footprint as well as support our local food economy and community. There is no other option for me, so we make it work. There are endless benefits to knowing where your food comes from.

Oni is not the first establishment where you’ve made Japanese-inspired cuisine. What do you love about Japanese food, as a chef and as an eater?

The purity of ingredients. You can’t hide poor-quality product behind layers of fat, cream, and cheese.

What is a Japanese ingredient every home cook should keep around?

Soy sauce. Real soy sauce. Not water infused with hydrolyzed soy protein and artificial color junk. There is an entire world of beautiful, umami-rich soy sauce out there for us to discover. True fermented soy sauce will add depth to any dish.   

Pecan Dashi Ramen. Photo courtesy of Oni.

How do your El Paso roots and living in New Mexico influence your cooking?

The fiestas and family get-togethers associated with eating delicious food are my fondest memories growing up in the Southwest. I cook so people can gather and enjoy good company.

Oni is in the process of transitioning from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar in Downtown, Albuquerque. What can we expect with the new location?

The brick-and-mortar wouldn’t be possible without my partnership with co-owner Daniel Linver. We are currently building out a beautiful space on 6th and Central. I have a profound love for sake and we will be offering a diverse selection, as well as beer and wine. You can expect a festive ambiance, great music, expanded menu, and knowledgeable staff.

So far, what has been the most difficult part of opening your own restaurant? What has been the most fun?

We are still in the early stages of opening the restaurant, so as expected there are numerous hurdles, but we keep pushing forward. Continuous planning and endless amounts of heart are going into the new restaurant. If you ignore the speed bumps, everything about this is fun. Every day is a new lesson and experience.

Tell us something surprising.

Oni will be giving away a pair of tickets to any New Mexico United soccer game that I can’t make it to this season. I’m opening a restaurant so I’ll probably have plenty of giveaways.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?

Edible New Mexico is such an outstanding and imperative publication for us here in New Mexico. They discover, recognize, and introduce the soul of our great state to readers. Once again, please take the time, ask questions, and learn where your food comes from.   

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