From Mexico to Corsicana, local chef follows his dream

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

When Yebel Shlimovitch, owner of the Taco Station food truck, asks if you want a taco, you should say “Yes.”

His question doesn’t mean “taco” as simply a collection of meat, vegetables, and cheese in a tortilla shell. It’s an invitation to come and eat food with him that he’s made for you.

“If you show up to my door, we’re going to ask you: ‘You like to have a taco,’ Shlimovitch said. “In Spanish, it means ‘Quieres un taco?’ It doesn’t mean I’m going to give you a taco, it means I’m going to give you something to eat. I’m going to give you a plate with whatever I have in the kitchen, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to make you a taco. We serve you the food, and if you’re more than welcome to put the meat in the tortilla, and then you make a taco.”

“It’s just a word to say ‘Come and eat something.'”

Since opening the Taco Station, Shlimovitch has wanted to bring fine Mexican dining to Corsicana, presented in a style locals have never seen before.

Shlimovitch was born in Teloloapan, close to Acapulco, Guerrero in Mexico. His mother is originally from Colombia, and the chef credits her for teaching him the craft of cooking, her specialties being molés (pronounced “mo-lehs”) and over thirty different types of salsas.

“My mom and I, we work very good together,” Shlimovitch said.

Shlimovitch describes his hometown as “a molé town,” which is a traditional Mexican marinade/salsa made up of around thirty different ingredients.

“You blend the tomatoes, the chocolate, the dry tortilla, the avocado leaves, cinnamon…. It’s a lot of ingredients.”

“When we say ‘molé’ in Mexico, mole means ‘fiesta’,” Shlimovitch said. “We make the molé as a special occasion. It’s really hard to make.” “When someone sees a spot of molé on your shirt, they’re going to ask you: ‘Where is the party?'”

The chef moved to Corsicana in 1985, and stayed in town until he moved to Chicago in 1996.

“I met this girl in Mexico, and I was with her for five years as boyfriend and girlfriend.” he said. “And then she moved to Chicago with her family, so I moved to Chicago.”

Upon arrival, his first job was working as a busboy for Rick Bayless at Topolobampo. During Bayless’ television show, One Plate at a Time, the chef asked Shlimovitch to be the server to his family for an episode. It was a brief appearance, but Shlimovitch smiled as he recalled getting it right the first time with no additional takes.

After six months of working at the restaurant, Shlimovitch asked Bayless if he could be a bartender, willing to train on his free days without pay. Initially, Bayless declined, but his wife Deann convinced her husband to give him the opportunity with pay. Bayless was proud of Shlimovitch’s tenacity of sticking to his goals, and expressed his appreciation for the hardworking employee’s drive.

Shlimovitch worked a variety of roles under Bayless, keeping busy as a bartender, server, busboy, and runner, eventually working up to training new employees for the restaurant’s staff.

“I always like to know more,” Shlimovitch said. “I always like to train more and more and more and more.”

His hard work and dedication led Shlimovitch to open his own restaurant in 2005. His cooking has always included recipes passed down from generations of his family.

“All the recipes are my own,” Shlimovitch said. “It’s nobody else. We own those recipes. We make those recipes from scratch.”

After Chicago, Shlimovitch, then divorced, decided to move back to Mexico in 2007 to start a new restaurant. The return to Acapulco allowed Shlimovitch and his mother the opportunity to travel the small towns and big cities of Mexico, discovering new recipes along the way.

“You have to go to the small towns,” Shlimovitch said regarding his search for new culinary ideas. “The small towns especially are such a nice people. They just tell you what they’re doing.”

However, Mexico provided difficult times as well. For years, the country has been known for its cartels, a major source of local organized crime. At one point, Shlimovitch had been kidnapped by the criminal organization and held for ransom for five days. While his family was able to free him, Shlimovitch lost much of his personal property in order to compensate for his freedom.

Once the ransom had been paid, his kidnappers took him to the jungle, and knocked him out. Coming to the next morning, Shlimovitch found his way through the wild animal-infested area to the nearest road, where he was picked up by a passing car and reunited with his family. Recovering from his ordeal, Shlimovitch flew to Cancun for a few days before flying over to Dallas in 2013. From there, he returned to his American home in Corsicana, with no plans to move back to Mexico ever again.

These days, Shlimovitch works together as a team with his wife, Tania. The two were married in Cancun in 2013.

While Shlimovitch initially looked for restaurant work upon return to town, his culinary experience made him overqualified for the local restaurants, so he took to factory work in Dallas. In the meantime, he and his wife were saving money to start their own food truck, eventually celebrating the grand opening of the Taco Station food truck on Jan. 11, 2018.

The fully-stocked mobile eatery continues to serve hungry walk-ups as it drives around Navarro County throughout the week. The unique flavor of his specialty recipes has earned him a loyal, and hungry, fanbase in this area of Texas. The truck is also available to cater for public and private events.

Shlimovitch judges the quality of his food based off the initial reactions of his diners, and he can tell the success of his recipes in their eyes.

“I don’t taste my food,” Shlimovitch said with a laugh. “That’s the funny thing. I know it’s good, but I make somebody else try it. And once they try it, it’s ‘Okay, this is good,’ and then I eat it.”

“I need somebody else to tell me whether it’s good or not.”

Shlimovitch was quick to add, however: “I do eat my own food. When you see the kitchen or the owners eat their own food, that’s a good thing. If you don’t see them eating their own food, then it’s no good.”

On April 15, 2019, Shlimovitch expanded his dining concept with the opening of a sit-down restaurant then located at 2105 W. Sixth Ave, the former location of the El Mexicano Grill. The new setting offered an expanded and ever-changing menu of dining selections.

For many small business owners, however, 2020 became a difficult year once COVID-19 began its spread across the country, and shelter in place orders in Navarro County forced businesses to close their doors. Unfortunately, the extended closure became permanent for the Sixth Ave. location.

While Shlimovitch does not expect to reopen that specific location, the food truck remains a local fixture, and he plans to transfer some of the restaurant’s specialty items to the truck’s menu. Despite the changes, the chef is optimistic for opening a new dining location one day.

When not making his usual rounds, Shlimovitch routinely gathers in the kitchen with his wife, his sister, and his mother, working on those generational family recipes they are still perfecting today.

“I like to see happy faces, always,” Shlimovitch said. “I like to see good people drive back and say: ‘That was very good. Thank you.'”

“That makes my day.”

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