Interview with Chef Jose Garces of El Vez & Alma de Cuba – Philadelphia, PA

May , 2004

Pamela Lewy:: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Jose Garces: My mom was a big inspiration. She used to cook about five meals a day and I usually helped her. My grandma was also a good cook and she influenced me also.

PL: Who are your mentors?

JG: My greatest mentor is Douglas Rodriguez. I worked with him for about four years and we still have a partnership at Alma de Cuba. Another mentor is Waldy Malouf whom I worked with at the Rainbow Room in New York.

PL: What chefs do you most admire?

JG: Right now I would say that Spain’s chefs inspire me. They are doing avant garde cooking and they’re ahead of the curve, giving me inspiration. I also gather inspiration from Rick Bayless and Zarela Martinez.They paved the way for a lot of people.

PL: What cities do you like for culinary travel? Why?

JG: New York is so close, so I try to go as much as possible. I just went to Paris and I was hugely inspired. I also love San Francisco. Mexican food is very big in Chicago.

PL: What are your favorite food haunts in Philly?

JG: Mark Vetri’s restaurant. I like Morimoto…it’s probably the best in the city for Japanese.

PL: What is your favorite spice? Why?

JG: Coriander. It has a lot of nuttiness, spice, and an earthy tone. It compliments most of my food. I love using cumin too.

PL: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?

JG: I like to ask them what the five mother sauces are? Half of the time they get the answer right.

PL: What advice/tip do you have for culinary students just getting started?

JG: I would say try to cook as many different cuisines as possible and learn about many as possible. Strive to find a cuisine that makes you happiest and then specialize in that cuisine.

PL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?

JG: I’m pretty modest, but I see big things for myself. I have a good foundation. I’d like to eventually open a new restaurant, write a book... build an empire