Interview: Chef Jose Garces discusses Formative Years, Expansion Plans, Pork, Palm Springs + More

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What are some of the hallmarks of your style as a chef?

People know me as a really good Latin chef. That’s kind of the way my career as a chef-restaurateur started. My first restaurant as the chef was a place called Alma de Cuba that was Latin and Caribbean cuisine. I would say people know me as a good Latin chef. Then I opened Amada, which was a Spanish tapas restaurant. Tinto. Lately, it’s showing some diversity in style and not really getting pigeonholed into one particular style. From my perspective, one of my hallmarks is really being a diverse chef, someone who can be a great chef, be a great restaurateur – I’ll say it – now I’m a farmer. I’m wearing a lot of hats. I find my life is pretty full from doing all that stuff. It may seem like a lot, but I manage it somehow.

Spanish Food Palm Springs
How much more can you manage?

Interesting. I don’t know. I’m not sure. We’re going to see. As some famous musicians have said, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Neil Young…So can you imagine opening a restaurant in Los Angeles at some point?

Absolutely. I think that this is a great way for me to experience the market. I’ve always wanted to come to California. It just so happened that this opportunity here with ownership of the hotel afforded me a good way to segue into the market. L.A. is definitely in my sights. If I’m going to travel all the way here from the East Coast, my goal is to instead of flying through Phoenix to get here, is to fly into L.A., go to my spot there, do it, and then come out here and do this as well.

How did you decide which concepts to install?

A lot of times it’s really about feeling the spaces and checking the market too, seeing what’s available, what’s lacking in the market in terms of cuisines. And then, there’s a certain feel that you can have for a space. I know that when I came here, this restaurant wasn’t in the best of shape. It felt really dated, like from the ’80s, it almost felt like a Denny’s…But the ceilings were a little low, and I just wanted it to feel warm and inviting, so Tinto has that feeling from the back.

What do you look for when you’re hiring someone to work in one of your kitchens?

At this point, we just want them to be able to breathe and hold a knive. [laughs] It’s tough to find that perfect culinarian, but we have a pretty big training. We look for enthusiastic people, people that care and are passionate about what they do.

Do you see signature dishes as a positive?

Yeah, I think so. For sure. If people recognize you through your food – “That is definitely a Garces plate” – that says a lot about who you are and where you’ve come from. It’s great.

What is your favorite part about owning restaurants?

I think it’s the people who actually work them. Getting to know them, getting to see them grow as professionals, that would be one aspect. And obviously customer satisfaction. Seeing true enjoyment in their customers, as they experience what we’re doing as a group. So last night, I arrived. This is our opening weekend here. Just to see the satisfaction in everyone’s face just from their dining experience and us being here was very pleasurable thing to experience.

If you could only cook with one more protein, would it be pork?

Yeah, absolutely. I’d know what to do with it, for sure.

What was the last meal that you cooked at home?

This last Valentine’s Day, I did King salmon with fresh pappardelle, black trumpet mushrooms, watercress, and a lot of basil and herbs. It was a one-dish meal for my wife and I.

Did you play any sports in high school?

I did. I played football and I wrestled.

Is there a person you’ve never cooked with before that you’d most like to cook with?

Yeah. I’d like to cook with Ferran Adria, get to know what he’s all about, get some insights.

Why him?

He’s been known as one of the best chefs in the world for many years. It feels like he’s kind of retired now from the kitchen, but I think he’s up for taking his work to another level, so I’d love to see what he’s up to.

Did you get a chance to eat at El Bulli?

I did not, unfortunately. That makes me kind of sad.

Is there anything you don’t enjoy eating?

I don’t enjoy eating airplane food. First of all, you’re in this congested cabin. I feel like all my extremities are swelling, and then they bring you this salt, very rich, heavy food. I actually can’t stand it. I guess that’s in the first class cabin. Sorry. [laughs]

Do you pack food when you’re on planes?

Sometimes. When I’m with my kids, it’s a lot of sandwiches, snacks.

How old are your kids?

9 and 5. 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Andres is 5.

Future chefs?

For sure. Yeah, somebody’s got to take over. I’m not doing this forever. I don’t know. If they don’t, then I might as well stop now.

If you could a guest shift at any restaurant, where would you go?

At this point – interesting question – let me think, what’s really turning me on? I would like to cook with Grant Achatz at Alinea, see what that’s all about. I’ve eaten there a couple times. I enjoy it. It’s a fun experience. He’s a very talented chef.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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