Interview with Chef Carmen Gonzalez of Carmen the Restaurant - Coral Gables, FL
Joy Johnson: Why did you start cooking? Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
armen Gonzalez: When I was 8 I knew I wanted to be a chef and own a restaurant. I come from a small town in Puerto Rico, and it was a mystery to everyone where my interest came from.
JJ: Where did you train?
CG: I owned a restaurant in Puerto Rico when I was 22, and then went to the New York Restaurant School.
JJ: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
CG: A fish spatula -- I cannot live without it.
JJ: What cities do you like for culinary travel? Why?
CG: New York, Paris, and San Francisco, because of the quality of food and variety of restaurants. In Paris there are so many restaurants, even unknown ones, where you can get great food. In Europe they use different ingredients and techniques than in the US, and I always learn.
JJ: What are your favorite food haunts in Miami?
CG: I like to visit my friends’ restaurants to support them and say hello.
JJ: What is your favorite spice? Why?
CG: I like cilantro because it is so fresh and clean.
JJ: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
CG: I use a wooden mortar to mash and soften food, specifically, plantains for my mofongo.
JJ: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential line cook?
CG: Why do you like cooking? What’s the most important thing when you go out to eat? What is your favorite ingredient?
JJ: What advice do you have for culinary students starting out?
CG: Don’t think that you know everything. Chefs continue to learn every day. I interviewed a culinary student who told me he was overqualified for the position. He hadn’t even graduated yet.
JJ: What is your favorite meal to prepare?
CG: Dishes can become so routine after a while, so I enjoy creating new dishes.
JJ: What is your favorite ingredient to experiment with?
CG: Fresh fish, root vegetables, and sauces.
JJ: What is your most memorable experience with food?
CG: When I was about 8 years old, on the beach in Puerto Rico, a fisherman’s wife prepared fish. She cleaned, cut and fried it in a large pot on the sand. She served it to me with fresh limejuice and tostones.
JJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
CG: In 5 years, still in Miami. In 10 years, in Paris opening a restaurant.