Spanish-speaking television watchers throughout the United States and Latin America have been getting a taste of Oak Park, Illinois since last summer, thanks to restaurant owner Francisco “Paco” Lopez, who owns the Mexican restaurant New Rebozo.
That’s because Lopez has been highlighting the work of local chefs on his weekly cooking show Vida Mujer, which runs on the Spanish-speaking television network Univision.
Lopez is known among Vida Mujer watchers for his signature catchphrase, “Oh my god!” At New Rebozo he’s known for his specialty moles — Lopez has 21 different kinds of mole sauce, according to the New Rebozo website.
“It will have you saying, ‘Oh my god!'” the website states.
His outgoing personality on Vida Mujer, as well as in real life, has made Lopez “very famous,” said his wife and New Rebozo co-owner Lilia Lopez.
“It’s not only in Chicago but also in the United States and you can see it in Mexico,” Lilia said in a telephone interview, adding that the show is broadcast as far south as Venezuela. “I’m not sure how many million [viewers watch the show] but it’s a lot.”
The show has been on Univision for two years, she said, since making the switch from Telemundo where the show spent its first year.
Asked if Paco gets a lot of fan mail, Lilia replied, “Yes! Yes, he does.”
Wednesday Journal requested an interview with the famous restaurateur, but Lopez said his wife was best to speak for the New Rebozo restaurants — he has a second location in Chicago — and Vida Mujer.
New Rebozo opened in Oak Park 25 years ago, and they have worked for years to bring greater attention to the western suburb and its cuisine, she said.
“He started inviting [Oak Park chefs to appear on the program] last summer,” she said.
Vida Mujer has since featured Munch, 104 N. Marion St.; Mancini’s Italian Bistro, 1111 Lake St.; Live Fresko, 136 N. Oak Park Ave.; and Taste of Brazil, 906 S. Oak Park Ave.
“He tried to invite one different business in Oak Park for a month,” Lilia said. “They show the food and they talk about Oak Park, too, and their own businesses.”
The goal was to promote smaller independent businesses that often are overlooked or don’t have the marketing budget to get their restaurant featured on television.
“To be on TV is very expensive, but they don’t pay anything [to appear on Vida Mujer],” said Lilia. Paco has also used the opportunity to expose a Spanish-speaking audience to Oak Park and its restaurants.
Rebozo is celebrating its 25th year in business, and they are planning a party at the restaurant sometime later this year.
Clips of Vida Mujer are available online, but you’ll need an interpreter unless you speak Spanish.