Monday, December 08, 2008

Jose Garces Talk

Dude, Philly foodies! Okay, so I've been a non-presence for the last few weeks; shame on me. But Jose Garces, owner and chef of some of Philadelphia's best restaurants, Amada, Tinto, and Distrito gives a free talk at the Philadelphia Free Library tonight and where are you? Shame on you.

Unlike the insane packed-house that was Thomas Keller's talk, tonight's talk was less than half-full. Together with Jose Garces more convivial presence and the fact that Mr. Garces' mother and grandmother were in the audience, the talk just felt a lot cozier.

This talk was the first of a series of culinary arts lectures endowed by culinary educator Julie Dannenbaum, shown above. Ms. Dannenbaum, it seems, has largely been forgotten by the internet. From what I can gather, she has written a number of cookbooks and was formerly an esteemed instructor at the Greenbrier Culinary apprenticeship program, one of the nation's most prestigious culinary programs. She also hosted her own cooking show for some time as well. (Greenbrier is a 213 year old luxury resort: Wikipedia)

In any case, Ms. Dannenbaum, still very spry for her age, gave the introduction for Mr. Jose Garces and his new book, Latin Evolution.

Mr. Garcia was fed questions by April White, former food editor of Philadelphia Mag and communications manage of the Food Trust. Now I don't know whether it was the somewhat mind-numbingly simple questions from Ms. White, the half-empty auditorium or his lack of desire to be center-stage, but Jose Garcia initially came across as a bit nervous. Shrug, anyways, soon enough, Garces seemed to settle in. (Just a side note, it was pretty endearing that throughout the talk, Garces gave winks to his mother and grandmother in the front row.)

A few interesting tidbits:
  • Garces will be opening a Chifa-inspired place at 707 Chestnut St, opening conservatively later January (!) (Chifa = Chinese restaurants in Peru: Wikipedia). My gf left iron grip-marks on my arm when she heard this. Needless to say, we were both pretty excited by this.
  • Beyond the Chifa place, he's looking to open a whiskey bar on the corner of Tinto, serving single-malt American whiskeys. In addition, he's looking to open something called Village Food, serving American food, "like a good burger," according to the precepts of the Slow Food movement.
  • On the topic of why Philadelphia, Garces responded that he just found the quality of life to be much better in Philadelphia, particularly comparing his place right on Rittenhouse square to his former place in Queens.
  • Garces wanted to run his restaurants so that customers felt as if they had been invited to his house to eat.
  • On the topic of reviews, Garces said that he reads them. He noted that the explosion of food bloggers has started to help dissolve the former "gatekeeper" status of renowned food critics, such as Frank Bruni in NY and Craig Laban in Phili. Garces was pretty gracious in saying that there are times that he misses things and that reviewers/bloggers are right in speaking their minds.
  • On the topic of molecular gastronomy, Garces said that he uses it where he can apply it, but feels at the heart of restaurants are customers' desires to want to have real food. (Hear hear!)
  • Garces just opened up Mercat a la Planxa in his hometown of Chicago this year. It made Esquires Best 20 restaurants. Note that University City newcomer, Distrito also made Esquire's Best new Restaurants of 2008.
All in all, beyond being a talented chef and restauranteur, Garces just seemed like a nice guy that you would want to chat with. In any case, I am very much looking forward to his upcoming restaurant launches and rooting for his success in them.

Upcoming Philadelphia Free Library Talks
Jan 20, 2009 - Marc Vetri - owner and chef of Vetri and Osteria. (More info)
Feb 4, 2009 - Mark Bittman - The NYTimes Minimalist. Also known for his book, How to Cook Everything.
Mar 17, 2009 - Peter Singer - best known for his book, Animal Liberation.

($Chicago, $News, $Philadelphia, $South / Latin American)

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