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This Corn-Obsessed Chef Is Making Nashville’s Most Exciting Tortillas

Real deal masa, tortillas, and huaraches fueled by 3,000 years of tradition from Julio Hernandez at Maiz de la Vida

Maiz de la Vida/Instagram
Jackie Gutierrez-Jones is the editor of Eater Nashville. She has over a decade of experience writing, editing, and leading content teams in the food, drink, travel, and tech space.

Nashville’s no stranger to tortillas — there are plenty of legit, downright delicious options to indulge any masa lover’s cravings. But Julio Hernandez of Maiz de la Vida isn’t just making the freshest masa in town, he’s also teaching the city about a centuries-old tradition that starts with a crucial ingredient in the tortilla game: corn.

Maiz de la Vida (which translates to “corn of life”) was born of Hernandez’s nostalgia for the fresh corn tortillas of his youth in Tlaxcala, Mexico. After moving to New York City, he fell in love with the city’s vast selection of cuisines and filed away the culinary memories of his youth. After spending some time in the NYC kitchens of Jean Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali, and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, he hightailed it to Nashville where he served as the executive chef at Foxland Harbor and Nectar Urban Cantina. Along the way, he made it his personal mission to build the perfect taco, sourcing prime ingredients and adding layers of flavor, texture and spices, only to have the tortilla crumble in his hands.

After four years of taco research, he had his lightbulb moment: the tortillas of his youth never seemed to fall apart like most of the commercialized brands he tried. “I have eaten every store-bought tortilla, used every masa harina available at the stores and online, and purchased fresh masa all over Nashville and Kentucky using Facebook marketplace or word of mouth,” said Hernandez. “Every single time I purchased fresh masa, I would pick it up myself and ask what type of maiz they used, how much calcium hydroxide they used and every time the answer was ‘I don’t know’.”

Maiz de la Vida/Instagram

Hernandez then set about creating a masa that would honor the ones of his youth, sourcing heirloom corn from Oaxaca and observing a 3,000-year-old tradition for making masa called nixtamalization, a process that involves cooking dried maiz with calcium hydroxide tobreakdown the endosperm. “As of today, I still hand press each and every single tortilla Maiz de la Vida has offered Nashville,” adds Hernandez. “We are talking 800-pounds of maiz so far by hand. One tortilla starts with a two-ounce ball.”

Maiz de la Vida/Instagram

While Hernandez’s tortillas, huaraches, and masas of the day can be purchased online Saturday through Wednesday (or until they sell out) for local delivery on Friday, they’re also available at the East Nashville Farmer’s Market and the soon-to-come Maiz de la Vida heirloom corn taco food truck slated to launch in early October. The truck will feature tacos, huaraches, corn quesadillas, fresh masa and tortillas along with a “pinche grande quesadilla” — a 24-inch stuffed tortilla fit for two.

Maiz de la Vida’s products can also be found at local restaurants and pop-ups like Alebrije and Hathorne during special collab nights. And starting on the first Sunday in October, the Maiz de la Vida food truck will be making an appearance at East Nashville’s Chopper for brunch and dinner taco service.

For more information on future restaurant pop-ups and taco food truck updates, follow them on Instagram @maiz_delavida.

Maiz de la Vida/Instagram