JoAnn De La O's Mexican dishes are edible works of art.
"Everything I cook must look good, as well as taste good.
Presentation is very important," De La O said.
Her specialty - enchiladas suizas (Swiss style enchilada) stuffed with chicken and green chiles and covered with sour cream, tomatoes and cilantro – is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the taste buds.
De La O drew rave revues when she cooked her special Mexican dishes such as fajitas de la casa, tacos jalisco and chile rellenos for customers at Casa De La O Restaurant in Red Bluff Calif.
"People would come from neighboring towns to eat at our restaurant.
They said it was the best Mexican food they had ever eaten," JoAnn's husband Gilbert De La O said.
JoAnn's love of cooking took root at a young age.
Born in Los Angeles, her family moved to her father's family ranch, Santa Rosa, in Ensenada, Mexico, when she was 3.
It was there that she developed her love of cooking, learning to make tortillas from scratch at age 7, she said.
JoAnn later met and married Gilbert in 1964.
After moving to Red Bluff in the late 1970s the couple opened a small taco stand, capitalizing on JoAnn's cooking skills and Gilbert's business sense.
Located at the Jolly Green Giant Flea Mart in Redding the De La Os named their new venture "Taco Village."
JoAnn also worked as a cook at the Red Bluff General Hospital for six years.
The couple later opened De La O's Taco Village in Red Bluff and after a few successful years moved to larger quarters and became Casa De La O Restaurant.
The couple owned the restaurant for six years, but the long hours and hard work of owning and operating a restaurant took its toll on JoAnn's health.
They sold the business and moved to Kingman three years ago.
JoAnn and Sheryl Griesinger became friends soon after.
Both enjoyed cooking and eating good food.
The De La Os and Griesinger, and her husband, Gerhard, found they had other things in common as well, such as their ministry work through Calvary Chapel Church.
The two couples also shared a De La O Christmas tradition of making special tamales.
An idea for a cookbook developed after JoAnn had written her favorite recipes in a book as a Christmas gift for her five children in 1999.
When word of the cookbook spread and requests for copies poured in, the two women decided to add more recipes and revisions for accuracy.
"This is the result of almost two years of my following JoAnn around the kitchen," Griesinger, who edited the book, said.
"I would watch her add something to a dish and I would say 'how much of that did you just add?' She didn't measure anything."
The result of their labors is a book containing 101 recipes, which JoAnn describes as a combination of New Mexico and Cal-Mex flavors.
Griesinger added that one of JoAnn's secrets is to serve several different cooked and fresh salsas at each meal.
Also included in the book are some of JoAnn's favorite desserts such as capirotada (Mexican bread pudding), empanadas de calabaza (pumpkin-filled pastries) and Mexican flan, a custard-type dessert.
The cookbook was more a labor of love than a profit making venture, say the women.
Nevertheless they have sold almost all the books – 200 copies – from the first printing.
The friends say they plan to write another cookbook, maybe a larger, hardcover cookbook this time.
"Sheryl is also a great cook.
She can cook and bake anything," JoAnn said.
This Saturday, the cookbook authors will host and cook a Mexican dinner at the Calvary Chapel of Kingman, with proceeds to go toward church missions.
The cost is $5 per plate and will include a choice of entrée with rice and beans and a beverage.
For more information about the dinner, or to order a cookbook, call 753-3484.