Since opening his first restaurant, Amada, in 2005, Chef Jose Garces has become one of the nation’s most talented high-profile Latino chefs.
He’s opened eight more restaurants in both Philadelphia and Chicago, written a cookbook, Latin Evolution, and won the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” award.
In 2010, Garces won Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, making him one of just seven chefs in the country to hold the prestigious title of Iron Chef America.
Fox News Latino recently sat down with him to dish about his food.
Q: You fuse many different cuisines together in your restaurants, so how would you describe your culinary style? Do you have a favorite Latin cuisine?
A: I would call my food ingredient-driven and culturally focused. Each of my restaurants has a guiding culinary style – for example, Andalusian tapas at Amada and American bar food at Village Whiskey – but we also obsessively source the best local ingredients for our guests. During the summer, for example, we celebrate Bunuel, Spain’s La Tomatina tomato festival at Amada with a menu that highlights local heirloom tomatoes. As for a favorite Latin cuisine, how could I ever choose just one? I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Ecuadorian dishes of my childhood, but part of the fun of food is exploring new tastes.
Q: How is being a leading Latino chef different from other chefs you've worked with? Has being a Latino worked to your advantage?
A: I was fortunate to grow up in a family that loved food. It was an expression of our Latino heritage, sure, but it was also more than that: it was a way to bring everyone together, literally, to share a meal and spend time with one another. The camaraderie that develops when people eat together always fascinated me, so I guess being a Latino was advantageous in that my family instilled in me early a love for and appreciation for what food can do.
Q: What did you learn from competing in -- and becoming -- an Iron Chef that home cooks would like to know and apply to their own cooking?
A: My favorite part of The Next Iron Chef was traveling to Japan for the final few challenges, because I had never been there before and there are so many amazing new flavors and ingredients to experience. Part of what I learned there was to be constantly open to new ideas, and I think that became a strength for me in Kitchen Stadium. Home cooks should be similarly flexible and open to learning. If you constantly adapt your cooking to include different techniques and unusual ingredients, and you seek out fresh recipes and preparations that you’ve never tried before, you will grow as a cook.
A: It might sound strange, but with the purchase and renovation of my family’s farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I think I’ve learned the value of a retreat, of a place to step back and enjoy what I’ve achieved. I’m a very active worker, and I don’t feel satisfied unless I’m constantly moving forward and tackling the next project. But the farm is a project in itself, ever growing and changing with the seasons, as well as a quiet place for my family and me to be together. Spending weekends there with my wife and kids is a blessing.
Q: What's your favorite Ecuadorian dish?
A: This is a tough question to answer, because so much of my childhood was about preparing and eating food with my family, but I have to go with a classic: my mother’s empanadas de verde. It was a favorite of mine, something we ate at home frequently, and my mom’s version remains one of my all-time favorite meals. Between the distinctive flavor of the dish and the happy memories associated with eating it while being surrounded by my family, I think that it makes a strong case for the title of favorite.
Q: What's your favorite Latino food? And where in the world do you go to get it?
A: Hands down, I’d have to say that Mexican street food is my favorite Latino food. And if you can get there, Mexico City is the ultimate place to eat it. My trips there actually inspired me to open Distrito, my personal ode to Mexican street food with a modern twist, and Guapos Tacos, a roving food truck serving up tacos, esquites and guacamole. Whenever I’m there I seek out tacos and pozole – I can’t resist!
Q: Anything else you'd like readers of Fox News Latino to know?
A: I’m excited that I’m finishing my second cookbook! It’s a travelogue through a variety of Latin cuisines, offerings glimpses into daily life in the regions where each dish is prepared, and serving suggestions so that readers and home cooks can “follow me” around the Latin world, one plate at a time.