Most people know Jose Garces from his spot on the Food Network’s Iron Chef, but Chicagoans are starting to take even more notice of this local celebrity. The executive chef at Mercat a la Planxa just released his cookbook, The Latin Road Home, an effective travelogue of his past cooking influences.
Garces demonstrated a few of the recipes featured in his book at a recent Kendall College event, where attendees were more than eager to see the celebrated alum. Garces seemed to enjoy the intimate setting and was humbled by many of the audience’s questions. While he cites his externship in Texas the place where he first began to love Mexican cuisine, he said Kendall was also “pretty influential in my growth as a chef.”
I’ve seen my share of cookbooks, and this is not your average Latin recipe book. Everything is split up not by course, but by country. Garces explained that for the weekday menus, everything can be made in under an hour. The weekend menus include more appetizers and courses if you’re having guests. The instructions look simple enough, yet these are not simple flavors. They absolutely look – and taste – like restaurant-style dishes. You’ll find bold flavors, pungent spices (which Garces passed around the room for all to smell up close) and unique flavor combinations.
The book might look a bit like a textbook, including maps and history information. Yet it feels a lot more personal than that when the chef is explaining how he ate skewers of meat all over Lima, Peru and that is what inspired his dish. Garces is just a personal kind of guy. His advice for aspiring chefs is to work hard and focus on some sort of specialty to get yourself attention.
And if you’re wondering – he films Iron Chef about five or six times a year. A simple coin toss dictates who will present to the judges first. Even though Garces has made it big on the Food Network, he’s stayed close to all of his roots.