The Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress (ICC) continues to be a harbinger of the year’s restaurant trends. Fueled by demonstrations and presentations from the innovators who help ignite the food fires — both in the kitchen and behind the bar — there are some concepts and chefs who just fit hand in hand. In other words, you can’t talk about one without referencing the other.
Chefs Aarón Sánchez, José Andrés, and Jose Garces are among those leading the charge behind the steady interest in the Latin American and Spanish movement. Spain’s been there awhile – the country was one of ICC’s first sponsors and ten years later it is still front and center, spearheading the movement towards robust flavors and dishes meant for sharing. The country’s contributions to modern cuisine are numerous and varied and include countless chefs who continue to mold and shape the global kitchen.
Symrise was able to catch up with Garces between ICC commitments as he signed his latest book. A recipient of the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic and Food Network Iron Chef, Garces epitomizes the movement of first generation chefs turning to the cuisine of his ancestors, albeit with his own twist.
Born and raised in Chicago to Ecuadorian parents, Garces said he was most influenced by his mother whom he used to help in the kitchen. He also credits his paternal grandmother, “the undisputed empanada master,” who helped him perfect his empanada technique.
Eventually, after graduating from culinary school, he traveled to Spain to study and learn the complex cooking of the Caribbean, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, creating his own style in the process.
Garces opened his first restaurant in 2005 and quickly expanded his empire. In just a decade, Garces Restaurant Group’s roster (http://garcesgroup.com/restaurants/) includes 18 restaurants speckled across the United States—from bistros, cafés, and taco trucks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. The chef also owns a thriving catering business and a 40-acre organic farm in Bucks County, PA where he sources his own produce for his east coast eateries.
In his first cookbook, Latin Evolution (2008), Garces recognized the growing popularity of Spanish and Latin American cooking styles while also exploring the future of the cuisines’ influence with his introduction of new ingredients and cooking methods.
“I think Latin American cuisines are influencing other chefs because of the growing Spanish-speaking population,” he told us. “There’s a big customer base in the U.S. Plus, there’s so much to discover there because it’s such a large region—there’s Spain, Latin America, Cuba, Mexico… and so many different variances within each.”
But when it comes to what influences Garces in the kitchen, more than a few sources help his creations along. In The Latin Road Home (2012), he looked to the future by examining the past, celebrating the recipes from his childhood including “Mamita Amada’s” green plantain dough used in her empanadas de verde. From street foods to home cooking staples, he also leans heavily on the ingredients, cultures and techniques of Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Peru.
Visiting other countries and immersing himself not just in haute cuisine but in street food helps. “I love traveling. I recently visited Argentina and had the greatest shrimp taco,” he said. “It’s interesting to see what other chefs and restaurants are doing. I’m influenced by what’s going on around me, especially when it comes to local artisans.”
In the foreword of The Latin Road Home, fellow top chef influencer José Andrés wrote, “Jose has opened up restaurants that reflect all of who he is as a cook and a person, where he has been, and who he has dined with and worked for. His whole story is on the plate before you, a story full of love and passion for travel, cooking and good food.”
Needless to say we’re all rapt with attention as to what his next chapter will bring and what stories he will continue to tell.