Even the mighty ones get burned out and need a switch in their life. Julia Child worked in advertising and (can you believe this?) the Secret Service before following her love for cooking. You can see how that turned out. "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoonist Bill Watterson grew weary of the constraints of newspaper limits for his strips and now he paints watercolor art while living a life of near anonymity. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — former wrestler, now action movie star and Disney darling. Do you get where I’m going with this?
Sometimes the daily, decades-long grind becomes undesirable and some folks find themselves in a not-so-great place. They switch off the computer, buy a rucksack, and head off into the hills to confer with the birds and squirrels, never to be seen again. And maybe that makes them happy.
Javier Castro was just such an individual except his desk was a flattop grill, fryer, and line. After years of pumping out food under the vision and management of endless chefs, he found himself not only entirely unhappy, but nearly done with the craft itself.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Castro continued that hot line grind for years, knowing all too well that one day he himself would be his own boss. As some artists do, it’s good to take a break from the one hustle you are most known for, only to return as the proverbial phoenix and rise to make a burger so good people drive miles just to get a taste of that searing meat brute gripped between quivering fingers.
The CowPig food truck is bright blue with cartoonish barnyard antics crashing about happily, inspired by the manic animated shorts of the Looney Tunes heyday. What goes on inside is not so different, although far more human and a complete family affair.
Javier’s two sons, now in their teens, run the grill and fryers as Pa works the crowd and runs the food. Please, do not ring up your local child labor law outlet. These boys want to be there. Just like dear ol’ dad, it is their calling and Castro couldn’t be happier.
"I am so happy and so proud of them. They can now run the truck without me," he beamed. "All I have to do now is come up with the recipes, teach them how to do it, and then they just do it."
In fact, it was last Christmas when he knew he made the right decision: Be his own boss and an independent business owner. Last Christmas was the first Christmas he got to spend with his children and family.
Being a hardworking chef usually means you work hard when most people aren’t. Holidays are no exception. In fact, that’s usually the busiest time for them. After years of getting up when his boys were still asleep and cranking out food while they were opening presents, he told them that he would never work a Christmas again.
His four-wheeled kitchen has made that possible.
Like all good food trucks that serve up greasy big-kid fun fare, CowPig can usually be found around beer boutiques and neighborhood bars because after a few you’re going to crave that delicious fill to quell the matters of grains and grapes. One thing Castro and CowPig are known for is being enmeshed in the Tucson cannabis community, which is absolute brilliant marketing.
The munchies hit, so where do you go? Hey, what about that blue wagon with cows and pigs mussing about that smells like the most joyous French fry dream I had once? Absolutely.
The CowPig Burger is absolutely no joke. Two generous beef patties get that good spatula squash which allows the meat a crispy edge. If you recall, Castro grew up in and around Los Angeles, so he is bringing some Fat Burger / In-N-Out sincerity to the hungry people of the Old Pueblo. Even though we have In-N-Outs here, now we've got something similar and better on wheels.
The frivolity of flavor continues into the territory of hot wings. The serious connoisseurs of battered and fried chicken are a divided state for the most part. Purists dictate that a real hot wing is one with bones included, that boneless "wings" are just "tenders for children or those that have yet to grow up." CowPig is here to unite that division.
The tenders that Castro has to offer Tucson and the rest of the world are both bold in taste and bolder in size, the kind of chicken amplitude a sasquatch would be proud to call a (temporary) friend.
Then there are the wings a la bones. Incredible. A high contender in the Southern Arizona race for wing supremacy. Castro let me in on a secret for the fiery crunch you get with these feisty bits. It's science that comes into play because he literally dehydrates a popular hot sauce and uses it in his dredge. Absolutely outstanding.
You don’t need to be anywhere near intoxicated to enjoy those wings. They’ll do the gullet and gut sucker punch for you. Meaning when you spot CowPig you better hope that you are hungry and down for the chow.
He also has some July plans in the works; a play with an off-and-on-again fast food obsession when it hits the menu and media (this is where the pig joins in). And the truck’s name itself is an inside joke between him and his boys as they like to call each other nonsensical rude names when they are home — exactly where Castro loves to be these days. That is when he’s not driving around town and cooking fantastic food with his sons in tow. Because no matter where you are, home is where the heart is and this is grub-tastic food made from the heart.
"I want to be that truck you chase down," said Castro.
That’s sage advice because you’re going to need the cardio before you tuck into his food, happy that the master hasn’t given up on his one true medium.
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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...