Winner of the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award in 2009, Garces owns and holds the title of executive chef at a handful of restaurants in his hometown of Philadelphia as well as at Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago. Food Network junkies, you might recognize him from Iron Chef America where he took on (and defeated) Bobby Flay in 2008.
We asked Chef Garces about the two new concepts, Distrito and Old Town Whiskey, he brought to Scottsdale and he spoke about where his love of cooking began.
Also find out what secret ingredient this Iron Chef would hate to see in a cook off... after the jump!
You've credited your mother with your interest in cooking, but was there one moment in your life when you knew you were meant to be a chef?
I would have a hard time singling out any one moment, because so many of them live together in my memory: my grandmother's month-long visits from Ecuador, spent mainly in the kitchen; learning to make my favorite dish, arroz con pollo, at my mother's side; preparing holiday meals for the entire family. When I realized that I could cook food that made people happy and make a living doing so, I knew right away that it was the career for me.
This is the second Distrito location and you already have bar called Village Whiskey in Philadelphia. How will Distrito and Old Town Whiskey be similar and/or different to those concepts?
Both Distrito and Old Town Whiskey draw inspiration from their Philadelphia counterparts, but each has new components that are specific to Scottsdale, as well. At Distrito, we created a barbacoa, or barbecue, section of the menu - and come spring, we'll be preparing it outdoors throughout the warm weather months, something we couldn't do in Philadelphia. Village Whiskey was conceived as a 'home away from home' for Philadelphians looking for a great drink and a bite to eat, and Old Town Whiskey fulfills the same purpose for our hotel guests looking for a comfortable place to eat and drink.
What message or messages do you hope to get across with your food?
I'm not really the kind of chef who thinks of food as sending a message - I'm much more interested in creating a hospitable and memorable experience for my guests by serving them something delicious in a warm, welcoming setting. There is definitely an authenticity to what I do at Distrito, partly because of my heritage and also because of the research I did before opening the restaurant, touring Mexico City and eating my way across it. (Hey, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!)
What secret ingredient would you hate to see if you were in another Iron Chef competition and why?
To be honest, I welcome unusual and 'weird' ingredients because I love the challenge. But I would prefer not to work with something like seitan, which seems so processed and 'unnatural' to me. But strong flavors and difficult proteins? Bring it on.
Tomorrow we'll find out how this husband and father finds time for family and ask who does the holiday cooking at the Garces home.