Chef Jose Garces: Latin Evolution

March 19, 2009 9:45:11 AM PDT
The son of Ecuadorian immigrants, who grew up in Chicago, Jose Garces has been recognized by everyone from The New York Times to Gourmet to the James Beard Foundation as one of the most inventive authorities on new Latin cooking. His dishes and food philosophy, featured for the first time in his new cookbook, Latin Evolution. Through the recipes in this book, Garces explores the history and the future of the cooking styles of Spain, Mexico, and much of South America. Adventurous home cooks and those looking to learn about New Latin culinary influences will find inspiration in this comprehensive cookbook."As a chef," Garces writes, "my constant challenge is to see the possibilities that new ingredients and techniques offer, while honoring what has come before. My mantra is simple: 'authentic' and 'innovative' are not contradictory. My dishes are a reflection of my own evolution, and this recipe collection is a highly personal mix of family history, culinary training, creativity, and my personality. If you understand the basics of a dish, you can create new, exciting riffs on that tradition. That's how my personal cuisine evolved, and it is how a shared cultural cuisine evolves as well."

By the time he was 8 years old, Chef Garces was preparing the family's daily meals alongside his grandmother. It was here that he learned how to make such traditional Latin dishes as arepas, empanadas, and moté (boiled corn with meat and spices). Garces went on to pursue his newfound passion by attending a local culinary school, after which he traveled to Marbella, Spain to intern at La Taberna del Alabardero restaurant, where he started to explore Spanish cooking in depth. Soon after he landed in New York and was hired by the pioneer of Nuevo Latino cooking, Douglas Rodriguez, to work in his restaurants, Chicama and Pipa. It was under Rodriguez's tutelage that Garces learned to apply classical training and modern techniques to traditional Latin dishes.

Garces went on to experiment with different cuisines and his own personal cooking style in several professional kitchens and in 2005 he opened Amada, an authentic Andalusian Tapas bar. Then Tinto, his wine bar inspired by Basque country made its debut. Both Philadelphia restaurants opened to high critical acclaim, and continue to receive rave reviews. In 2008, Garces' partnered with Sage Hospitality to open Mercat a La Planxa (located in Chicago's Blackstone Hotel) is a Tapas-style restaurant that features Catalon-inspired cuisine. Most recently, Garces opened his third Philadelphia restaurant, Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant with colorful, kitchy decor. The critical and commercial success of all of his restaurants continues to fortify Garces' standing as one of the country's most talented and inventive chefs and has solidified his reputation as an ambassador of contemporary Latin cuisine.

Latin Evolution contains a wide variety of recipes spanning the globe from the Basque region of Spain to the coast of Peru to city of Buenos Aires. Some dishes are inspired by Garces' childhood, some developed and featured at his restaurants, and others based on his far-reaching culinary imagination. Garces' philosophy, that cuisine is constantly evolving, allows him to create dishes that can be considered both authentic and innovative. To invigorate traditional recipes, he makes use of new ingredients and techniques, often producing surprising combinations. Behind these recipes are new and unexpected shapes, textures, colors, and of course tastes.

The development of each dish in this collection begins with a simple question: what is at the core of this dish? Garces' challenge is "to improve the concept of the dish without changing its soul." For example his Bluefin Tuna Tiradito features Spicy Watermelon and black sesame seeds, while the classic Mexican dish Turkey Mole features Sesame-Seed Praline and shavings of Valrhona chocolate. Garces' version of basic South American shellfish ceviche uses traditional techniques while incorporating nontraditional ingredients such as black truffles, Meyer lemon, and micro arugula. His adaptation of the arepas that he learned to make as a child are a combination of corn cakes browned in sizzling vegetable oil (similar to those sold by Ecuadorian street vendors), topped with Caribbean-inspired oxtail ropa vieja and finished off with the addition of crisp bacon and tomatoes ? a salute to North American flavors. The result is a dish that reflects both Garces' heritage and his contemporary style.

Covering a full range of recipes, Latin Evolution covers: Ceviche Y Tiradito, Entradas (Appetizers), Pescados Y Maricos (Fish and Shellfish), Aves Y Carnes (Poultry and Meat) and Postres (Desserts). Also included is a Basics chapter and a helpful Sources and Substitutions section that defines what certain key ingredients are, offers where to find them, and what to possibly use instead as an alternative.

About the author

Jose Garces is the 35-year-old executive chef and owner of the Philadelphia restaurants Amada (an Andalusian Tapas bar) and Tinto (a Basque-inspired wine bar). He is also currently the executive chef of the Tapas restaurant Mercat a La Planxa (featuring Catalon-inspired cuisine) at the historic Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. Garces was recently nominated for the "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" Award by the James Beard Foundation, and he and his food have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Esquire, Travel and Leisure, and many other national publications. He has also appeared on the Food Network show Iron Chef America. Garces lives in Philadelphia and Chicago.