It was a fixture in the Clyde area for years, the cheery yellow restaurant on the way into town on Route 31. El Caldero, owned and operated by Carmen Figueroa West and her family, served up Spanish, Mexican and American fare that people would come from as far away from Rochester to savor.
“This was authentic food, not the kind you get at Chili’s,” said Teresa Figueroa, West’s daughter, who grew up working at the restaurant with her seven sisters and one brother. Originally opened in Geneva as the region’s first restaurant of its kind, it relocated to Clyde and served its eclectic fare from 1981 until it closed in 1998 after a fire.
Even then, West, a recipe-collector since she was 17 and a ferocious cook all her life, knew there would still be demand for the quesadillas, tamales and tacos and other special dishes that gave El Caldero its renown.
For nearly 10 years, while she worked at ARC in Canandaigua and at P&C, she was prickled by an idea she’d had since attending a Tex-Mex training session years ago in the Poconos run by a woman who had written a cookbook.
“I felt confident and inspired that I could put together a collection of our favorite business and family recipes,” West wrote in the introduction to “El Caldero’s The Iron Kettle.” She published the pink hardcover cookbook in loose leaf form in 2009 through Morris Press Cookbooks. Most of the recipes in it were served daily at her restaurant.
The 122-page book was so popular that two years later, it is nearly sold out and her family is contemplating a second printing.
West passed away in July 2010 at 77 after a courageous battle with brain cancer. The cookbook is a way to keep her memory, and the flavor of El Caldero itself alive, her daughter said.
“It was a long-time goal of hers, to do the cookbook,” Figueroa said. “It was on her bucket list and when she knew something was going on, she hurried up and completed it.”
And Clyde ate it up, so to speak, happy to have access again to the restaurant’s popular dishes, such as huevos (eggs) caporal. Figueroa said regulars would know it simply as #6.
“It was ground beef, eggs, cheese, beans, with grated potatoes on the side and a ranchero sauce,” she said. “It was more like a brunch meal, and you not only got one, you got two. My mother used to make mine with ham, because I don’t like ground beef much”
Not only was food at El Caldero well-liked, but West was too. She was involved in Clyde although she lived in Waterloo. She was a member of the Clyde Chamber of Commerce and always participated in whatever was going on in the village.
“She was very well-respected and well-liked in the community, and her restaurant was impeccable,” said Figueroa, “She kept a tight ship and she worked her family harder than other people. But she kept a nice place; it was good food and reasonable prices.”
Paul Figueroa-Lippert, Teresa’s son, inherited some of his grandmother’s love for cooking and baking. The 15-year-old Clyde-Savannah student, who inherited some of his grandmother’s cookware as well, regularly bakes for American Cancer Society fundraisers.
“It’s my way of carrying on her legacy and helping make sure others don’t have to endure what she did,” he said, referring to her illness.
He bakes churros, a Spanish type of donut, empanadas de fruta, tortillas, and other Spanish types of foods, although he’s made American baked goods as well.
“I mainly stick with the Spanish food, though,” he said. “That’s what my grandma made, and I think other bake sales would be less likely to have Spanish food, so its just a small part of what makes my Cancer Team’s bake sales overall special and different.”
Figueroa said her son also makes a mean pot of rice, like his grandmother.
The few remaining El Caldero cookbooks in print may be purchased at Galens on Columbia Street in Clyde, or directly from Figueroa by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are $20.