Cowboy Ciao's Lester Gonzalez Dishes on His Kitchen Pet Peeve and His Grandmother's Tortillas
Lester Gonzalez, Executive Chef at Cowboy Ciao
This is part two of our interview with Lester Gonzalez, comfort food enthusiast and Executive Chef at Cowboy Ciao. To catch up on Gonzalez's food truck fantasies and his take on the bacon obsession, check out part one of interview.
National/international chef you admire: I've always been a huge fan of Mario Batali because I'm big into charcuterie. His style is more clean.
Favorite ingredient to work with: I like working with garlic. I love garlic in everything. It adds certainty to it. Maybe it's the Mexican in me, too, that likes the garlic. Don't get me wrong -- I won't take garlic in my desserts.
The newly opened Cowboy Ciao at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Not seasoning. No one likes to eat bland. There's a reason why we don't put salt and pepper shakers on the table. Everything should be well seasoned.
What would you say to aspiring chefs: That it's hard work and never lose your passion.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?: Well, when I was a kid, if you didn't cook, you didn't eat. My grandparents ran a corral, and they were busy tending to the livestock. But as time went on and my grandparents got older, I was cooking for them.
So what was your go-to food as a kid?: Burritos. My grandmother used to make homemade flour tortillas on this old wood-burning stove. It was the best. My grandpa used to grow Indian white beans, then I would boil them and fry them. It's one of the things I miss.
One year, we had this huge storm and our power was out for almost two weeks. And my grandmother had to cook outside. Those were some of the best meals.
Have you ever tried to recreate your grandmother's tortillas?: Yeah. It's not even close.
It's so much about the skill that she developed over time, after years of doing it. She would show us how to do it as kids. It was fun, but the tortillas didn't come out round. Sometimes they looked like Texas.
And she never measured things out. It was always a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
Favorite cookbook and why: Parts. Given to me by Charleen Badman, the chef over at FnB a few years ago.
It tells you how to cook the rest of the parts of the meat that don't usually get used: the organs, the ears, etc. It just gives you a breakdown, tells you how to utilize parts that other people just throw away.
Last meal on Earth: Slow-roasted pork and my grandmother's tortillas.
What should be written on your headstone?: Let's eat!
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out the previous interviews with: MJ Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
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