The New Potato

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Jose Garces

Iron Chef

We always feel somewhat badass when we have an Iron Chef on our site. It almost gives us a sense of culinary expertise by default (as opposed to feeling like completely inadequate cooks, which is maybe what we should be feeling).

The best part of Jose Garces’ interview though was that he wanted to be shot at a personal favorite restaurant of ours – Barbuto. So really when you think about it (since our favorite restaurant was the one spot Garces wanted to go when he came into town) we could basically be seen as on his level; or at least that’s our rational. Either way, we resisted from asking if he wanted us to be his sous chefs on his next Iron Chef episode, and just interviewed the very talented restaurateur instead…

What would be your ideal food day? 

My ideal food day would begin by waking up with my children at Luna Farm, our family farm in Bucks County, PA. We’d harvest fresh vegetables and herbs from around the property, store them in the kitchen, then head out to the nearby Ottsville Farmers Market for locally raised, sustainably produced meat and dairy ingredients. Back home, we’d prepare a meal together from all of the gorgeous ingredients we gathered and enjoy it outside, sitting in the afternoon sun. Simple, comforting and awfully tough to beat.

How has competitive food TV changed since you started? 

Having been through the ringer in Kitchen Stadium, both as a challenger against Bobby Flay, then as a competitor on The Next Iron Chef, and now regularly as an Iron Chef myself, I find myself increasingly jaded about other so-called ‘reality TV’ programs. I know how hard my team and I work for every battle, and it makes the endless back-and-forth drama-baiting between personalities – whose only accomplishments are appearing on a ‘reality’ show – that much more frustrating. It’s one thing to appear on television because you have something you’re passionate about and want to share – in my case, my food – and it’s quite another to appear on television for its own sake.

Your one piece of advice to young chefs…

It’s the advice that has guided me throughout my career: get to know yourself, and where your talents lie, and what moves you – and then chase that with everything you’ve got. Along the way, find mentors who you trust, and learn everything you can from them. And don’t be afraid to fail in the service of staying true to you. It will make your success that much more valuable when it comes.

Your biggest priority at your restaurants every night…

My sous chefs and line cooks know: if they see me coming, they better be prepared for me to taste every component of every dish. Monitoring and improving the quality of our food is my biggest priority, because it allows me to be sure that every dish we serve to our guests is up to the exacting standards that I set for myself. I want every plate to be served exactly as it would if I had prepared it personally, and I’m proud and fortunate to have such a devoted and talented team in my kitchens making sure that that is the reality, every day.

Something at all your restaurants that screams “Jose”…

My focus on ingredients means that every dish I prepare is loaded with deep, diverse flavors. When you cook with top-notch components, and let their inherent characteristics really shine, you can build plates that practically sing with vivid flavors, and that’s always my goal.

Your cocktail after a long night…

I’ve long been a bourbon guy, but recently, after working on the cocktail menu for my new Cuban and Caribbean diner, Rosa Blanca, in Philadelphia, my bar staff turned me on to aged rums. They have the same nuanced character as bourbon and the best ones are velvety smooth and supple – perfect for sipping after a bustling night on the line. Lately, I’ve been reaching for Pyrat rum, with one enormous ice cube, which keeps the rum frosty without over-diluting it. I make those massive cubes at home by filling water balloons and popping them in the freezer, so they’re ready for me after a long day.

Your most memorable Iron Chef episode and why…

I’ll never forget the edge-of-my-seat excitement of Battle: Indian Cuisine on The Next Iron Chef. Not only did I manage to cut myself pretty badly in the heat of battle (thank goodness for our on-set medical techs, who cleaned me right up!), but I was sure I was going home. Instead, I ended up winning.  The relief was extraordinary – and when you watch the episode, you can definitely see it all over my face.

How do you always start your day? 

When I get up, I immediately brew myself a Chemex cup of my dad’s roast coffee, enjoy that first perfect sip, then dive head-first into preparing breakfast for my kids, Olivia and Andres. The older they get, the more interested they seem in helping me out in the kitchen, which is great fun. It makes mornings a pleasure, rather than a chore, and it sets a tone of calm togetherness that I often look back to during my busiest days.

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