Chef Jose Garces: At Klink! and Beyond

Earlier this month, Resorts Casino Hotel invited Jersey Bites to attend Klink!, its signature wine tasting featuring 40 international wines, tapas pairings and a cooking demonstration by celebrity chef Jose Garces. 

Chef Jose Garces is the 2009 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic award and held the title of Iron Chef on the Food Network. He owns and operates Distrito in Moorestown, and more than a dozen other eateries in Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Latin Road Home (Lake Isle Press, 2012) and Latin Evolution (Lake Isle Press, 2008). Chef Garces took the time to chat with me about his upcoming openings, his passion for cooking and his work with the immigrant community.

Two exciting restaurant openings are in Chef Garces’ immediate future. A Manhattan location of his flagship Amada, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant, is tentatively planned for late April 2016 at Brookfield Place.

For Garces, it’s a homecoming of sorts. “I’m super excited,” he said. “I learned how to cook in New York as a line chef and a sous chef, so coming back is very gratifying.” A new Philly restaurant, 24, is scheduled to open this summer. The Iron Chef told Jersey Bites that “usually whatever is going on in my life, it just carries over” to his menus. “I think in cooking you go through cycles. Lately I’ve been focused on super foods and lean protein, great, high quality fish and healthy salads.” That focus—and his love of pizza—will be reflected in the fare at 24. “It’s going to be a healthier American pizzeria, a large selection of salads, vegetables and grains with proteins to match.” Garces has coined it “guilt-free pizza,” with a choice of regular, whole wheat or gluten-conscious dough.

Klink_186Chef Garces hinted at a return to Atlantic City “within the year,” a welcome sign after the closure of his Amada, Village Whisky and Guapos Taco at the failed Revel Casino. The Resorts crowd got a taste of his trademark flavors with a cooking demonstration that highlighted Garces’ Ecuadorian heritage, much of it based on childhood memories. He describes his pan de bono—a Latin American cheese bread—as “something that my mom and my grandmother always made for me. I would wake up to that aroma.” He also prepared a peasant-style aguado de pollo, a chowder-like one-pot meal lent a rich flavor and color by achiote paste, the “poor man’s saffron” made from annatto seeds.

That this talented chef does not forget his roots is clear, both in his cooking and his Garces Foundation, co-founded with his wife, Dr. Beatriz Mirabal-Garces. The organization provides the Philadelphia immigrant community with free dental and health screenings. Its innovative three-month session called English for the Restaurant and Everyday Living offers English classes and restaurant skills workshops. The same community is often invited to the Garces’ Luna Farm, an organic 40-acre farm in Bucks County that also supplies produce to the Philadelphia and Moorestown restaurants. Chef Garces proudly said, “We teach families how food is grown, how its harvested, and how to eat healthy.”