This Tijuana-Born Salsa Maker is All About Integrity & Authenticity

Photo of Gaby Acosta courtesy of El Novato.

El Novato is a line of unique, locally made salsas crafted with integrity. This new company is the creation of film costumer Gaby Acosta. Born in Tijuana, where she lived until she was three, Gaby has spent her life divided between Mexico and the LA/Orange County area. 

Gaby was motivated by the difficulty she had finding salsas she loved that were not made by her family. “Growing up so much in Mexico really influenced my tastebuds. I’m very connected to Mexico. In Los Angeles, there’s amazing food and in Santa Ana, where I grew up, but there were never salsas like at my house. It’s hard to find the salsas I like — so many things get watered down. If a salsa was designed to be spicy, I want it to be spicy! Either you like it or you don’t. I don’t want to compromise.

Gaby found success in entertainment — working in wardrobe for the 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” is her biggest credit so far. But when Covid shut down filming last year, Gaby decided to finally focus on the project she’d thought about for years but never had time for: creating a line of salsas that taste as good as the ones made by her family. She told me, “When the pandemic hit, I thought, “Now I can actually fill out the paperwork and do the things I couldn’t find time for before. It helped me get organized and finalize the recipes. This pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for me and my family. It’s been difficult but we’re happy. I always complained I didn’t have enough time. Now I finally did.”

“Cooking is something I’ve always loved to do. I got into entertainment at a young age. At 17, I started working with musicians and fashion and that helped me to jump into TV and film. But I would still cater weddings and engagement parties on the side. It’s always been a passion.” 

Photo by Karin E. Baker for The LA Beat

The company is definitely a family affair. Though Gaby does the cooking, two of her aunts helped her develop and perfect the recipes. A cousin does El Novato’s social media and branding, while another cousin takes care of photos and videos. The company itself was named after Gaby’s grandfather, who as a young man earned the nickname “Novato” (Spanish for “Rookie”) for his skill on the baseball field, while Gaby’s uncles build and engrave the distinctive wooden boxes that house the salsas. “We don’t hire outside people. Everything is done in-house by our family. I’m very lucky that my family is very tight and has a lot of unity. We all help each other out, and all our salsas are based on what we grew up eating.”

El Novato salsas are locally made using organic ingredients sourced from Mexican farmers. The company currently offers three salsas, each loaded with character and depth. Tastes Like Home, probably the most approachable, is a flavorful melange of roasted vegetables similar to one made by Gaby’s grandmother. It’s great on eggs, chicken, or meat. Tamarind Addict is a mild, lightly sweet blend of tomatillo and Jalisco-grown tamarind that Gaby recommends brushing atop fish or shrimp before grilling, or as a marinade. Tastes Like Home Run, my favorite, is an aromatic mixture of peanuts, roasted peppers, sesame seeds, and grapeseed oil. Gaby recommends adding it to meat or soups. “My family adds it to menudo. I have a friend who adds it to pasta.”

El Novato also offers a superior mole. Called TJ Mole, it’s a traditional Colorado-style mole with great depth of flavor that tastes great on chicken, tofu, or enchiladas.

Photo by Karin E. Baker for The LA Beat

As life returns to normal, Gaby and her family plan to resume selling their products at farmer’s markets. For now, you can purchase El Novato salsas and mole via their website.  

Gaby told me, “I hope people give these a shot and open their minds to what salsas really are and what they mean in Mexican culture. Even though I’m American and I have a special place in my heart for the United States, I am Mexican and I want people to understand what salsas really are. It complements your food. They enhance your food. It’s not just something on the side. It’s as important as your main dish. If the salsa is not good as good as your main dish, it’s not worth it.” 

Karin E. Baker

About Karin E. Baker

Karin E. Baker is a native Angeleno who loves the eateries, history, nature, architecture, and art of her hometown. When not exploring poke shacks in Kona, tascas in Córdoba, and konditoris in Malmö, she writes about food, culture, lifestyle and travel. She obsesses over comma usage and classic films and is always happy to find an excuse to open a bottle of champagne.
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