Innovating in our local foodie scene since 1990, Hector remains one of Asheville’s culinary community influencers. He’s passionate, colorful, talks quickly - and with his hands - and is often referred to as a "genius" and a "character."
Hector’s influence is massive. He is a teacher and inspiration. He is a keeper of old family recipes and a mad scientist in the kitchen.
Many of the working cooks and chefs in downtown Asheville over the last 25 years have collaborated with, learned from, and worked for Hector.
Born in the jungles of Puerto Rico, Hector’s story is part of Asheville lore. Writers have gravitated to the story that Hector was a young orphan. Truly, he was an adored son raised by his Grandmother. He shined shoes until he was old enough to immigrate to New York at the age of 12. He worked at restaurants in NYC and Miami and came to Asheville in the '80s where he worked in various restaurants until opening a burrito stand that would become Salsa. Since 1994, he’s created five restaurants in Asheville including Salsa, Zambra, Modesto, Chorizo, and Bomba and influenced many other Asheville ventures, including The Orange Peel.
What is not often part of the characterization of Hector, outside of his masterful way with flavors, recipes, sheer creativity, and unbridled passion, is his influence in the Asheville restaurant scene. Asheville was not a foodie town before Hector Diaz. People came here to hike or paddle, eat barbecue, smoke cigarettes and listen to Bluegrass, visit the Biltmore House or Grove Park Inn. But it was decidedly not a food destination. Hector was the beginning of this town's food transformation.
In 2012, Hector and wife Aimee bought a farm near Asheville, where they are raising their four boys among rows of organic greens, vegetables, peppers, chickens and like-minded farming and gardening neighbors. They are part of what West Asheville hopes will be the edible mile. Their spot is called Farm 44.
Hector and Aimee are contributing community members. The couple have helped to refurbish Asheville’s aesthetic and related infrastructure. Their investment in Asheville is primary.
Whether you're a visitor to Asheville or live here, if you love the food scene this town has become, you owe a nod and wink to Hector. So many restaurants and avenues lead back to him and the rims of many of your favorite dishes hold his thumbprints.
Aimee is a prism, and depending on the day, the people in her path and the goals in front of her, all sensory info passes through her and becomes diffuse in a matter of moments.
Aimee has your grandmother's wisdom and your little sister's grin. She, like Hector, takes the long view of what the Asheville food scene was and will continue to be. She's invested completely in this place and the people they serve.
Aimee is the operational might of Hector’s Restaurants which include Salsa, Modesto, and Bomba. She is also Hector’s wife and mother to their 4 boys.
She's complex and carries with her a proper British composure and a Latin passion in her familial DNA. With a degree in Botany, her understanding of growth and sustainable organic systems means that she is constantly transferring that knowledge to her life and work in the restaurants.
She is both heart and spine, and is incredibly warm and reassuring. Her essence and creativity are evident as she navigates the concerns of the staff, her husband, children, community and an enormous amount of history.
"Having a staff is a humbling experience. They are the vehicle that transforms this promise that we have to be open every day, to serve the highest quality food, to have a clean kitchen, polished silverware, to be friendly and mindful, to contribute to a higher intrinsic value so that our customers may leave feeling better." - Aimee
Kitchen Masters - History, Heat & Soul
Salsa began with Hector, and the day to day consistency of flavor that keeps people returning is anchored by the kitchen staff, which includes matriarch Lola, along with her cousin Dilcia, Jeisson the night manager, key cook Fidel, and José, the kitchen manager.
All are long-time members of the Salsa family. Lola is the mother figure who provides the historic flavor memory and depth of knowledge to the kitchen. Dilcia chops faster than anyone and keeps the sauces and salsas fresh and prepared to be served to salivating guests.
José's dimples would be enough for most, but he's also masterful in the kitchen. He trained along side Chef Hector, learning and downloading stories, ingredients and techniques for over a decade. Now he gets plate after spicy plate out to the dining room at an impressive pace. His younger sister, Jackie, is coming up through the ranks as the new grill master.
Many of the staff have more than a decade as part of the restaurant's history. They are the foundation and legacy of Salsa.
Servers - Hosting the Party
Salsa is the best disruption if you're having a bad day and the best pick-me-up on any day. And these people know it. They are as devoted to service as they are to each other and love to make suggestions to first time guests while hugging the regulars.
Funny and focused, the servers and kitchen staff add flavor to the food, to the vibe and to Asheville's culinary scene. Ask anyone who works at Salsa's about another member of the team and they'll smile and then use 5 descriptive adjectives and follow it up with a story ... as family's do.
Salsa's staff compliment the music, the vibe, the flavors and they absolutely hold the culture of this Latin bistro together.
Farm to Table
FARM 44 is the Diaz's home, mission, attention to their carbon footprint, and where they are raising their sons next to rows of peppers, fresh greens, veggies, figs, dozens of chickens and like-minded neighbors. The key ingredients for Hector's hot sauces come from this farm and from fellow farmers and farmer's markets. The Diaz's honor the farmer and the yields of those doing what they do best.
Along with growing and using Farm 44 greens, peppers and produce in all three of their restaurants, Chef Hector and wife Aimee Diaz emphasize their ongoing commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. Old growth white oak, maple and apple trees that needed to be removed from the farm were marked by an arborist and then corded and cured. The wood cut is now routinely delivered to Modesto for creating all of the wood-fired meat and seafood dishes.