Students on the Warnell Core summer program got up close and personal with local cuisine recently, with a visit to Rancho de Lelo family-run restaurant in Lower San Luis.
Rancho de Lelo serves fresh-caught tilapia, which are raised in series of five ponds on the property. Owner Aurelio “Lelo” Mata brings the tilapia to his farm as two month-old fry and raises them until they’re large enough to catch and eat. Each pond holds a different size class of fish- which is more efficient in terms of feeding and growth. The fish are fed different sized of pellets: larger pellets for larger fish, and vice versa.
Lelo’s wife, Elvira Cruz, is the mastermind in the kitchen, serving up smoked pork, tasty salads and sides, in addition to the house specialty – fried tilapia. Daughters Natalia and Beatriz, son Jocksan, and Elvira’s mom Miriam are frequent assistants.
But- before the Warnell kids could eat their tilapias- they had to catch them! These tilapias are somewhat gun-shy, so to speak, and they refuse to be caught on an ordinary hook-and-line. In order to catch enough fish for a big group like this, Lelo brings out the seine net- the fun is about to begin! Safety goggles are provided (Lelo once got a stunning black eye from being hit in the face by a flying tilapia) and everyone gets into the water to haul the net across the pond. This is not a spectator sport!
This fresh, filling meal is made even more delicious by a little garlic butter… and by the fact that the group caught it themselves. Dig in!