With a New Book and Restaurant on the Way, Jose Garces Returns Home

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Jose Garces Photo: Collin Keefe

Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been living and working here almost all along. But in blowing out his formidable restaurant empire, which has grown to include 15 restaurants from here to Palm Springs, Atlantic City and back, and wrangling culinary adversaries in Iron Chef America’s Kitchen Stadium, Jose Garces has been everywhere all at once, but increasingly too preoccupied to do what he does best, cook. But with a new book The Latin Road Home set to drop on October 8, and the crowning jewel of his restaurant kingdom, Volver, opening in the Kimmel Center next spring, he’s ready to settle down and return to the kitchen here in his hometown. We caught up with Garces this week for an update. Keep reading to see what he has to say.

Last we spoke, you were telling us a little about what you’re going to be doing with your restaurant at the Kimmel Center

We’re looking at a spring opening. I would say by December or January we’re going to start doing some heavy testing of recipes for that concept.

Have you come up with a name for it yet?

It’s going to called Volver.

How does that relate to the restaurant?

Well Volver in Spanish means to return. It’s also one of my favorite Pedro Almodóvar movies. And it has a lot of significance. It has many meanings. I’ve spent a lot of time expanding the restaurant empire the last five years or so. I want Volver to mark my return to the kitchen. Subliminally I want people to hear Volver, and then think, “Ooh, I want to return there.”

A ha! Speaking of which: How did your summer go in Atlantic City?

Good. Very good. I spent as much time down at Revel as I could. I also filmed Iron Chef over the summer.

How are things going at Revel?

I had a great time there this summer. I’m proud of the restaurants, I love the way they came out, and I’m thrilled with the service we are providing there. It’s been a fruitful endeavor, and I enjoy being down there.

You said you filmed some episodes of Iron Chef over the summer. How many? Who did you go up against? When will they air?

I’m not sure if I can tell you that.

With opening restaurants everywhere, and doing Iron Chef, how did you find time to pen your new book The Latin Road Home?

Believe it or not, it’s been a two-years-in-the-making project. It’s been kind of slow-going. There was a lot of information to gather, a lot of personal stories, and a lot of recipes to write too.

What goes into the recipe writing? Is there a lot of back and forth between kitchen and keyboard?

The first process is coming up with the concept for the book, or a section of the book, and start drawing the framework. Since my last book Latin Evolution was a more modern, or modernistic approach to Latin food, I always knew the sequel would be kind of a stripped down version, with me looking at the the traditional recipes from what I see as the countries that influenced my career.

What countries?

I decide to focus on five countries — Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Peru — that I’ve traveled to, I’ve eaten in, and found inspiration in.

How much travel was involved?

A lot of it is journal of my travels to these countries. I’ve traveled quite extensively through all of the places featured in the book. And then we did a photo journal for the trip to Ecuador. I’d been there before, but not in, like, 15 years. So it was a great experience for me to get back with family, the culture, the geography. It was such an enlightening experience.

What did you come back with?

I think that it’s all sort of like a journal, or a story, of how these different experiences, whether it was a market in Mexico City, or the Lima fish market in Peru, or eating in somebody’s home in Cuba, have so informed my cooking, and have left their mark on what I bring to my restaurants. My career is kind of this excuse to travel, and what I’ve found along the way have been some truly enlightening experiences.

Enlightening experiences?

There are so many. At the Lima fish market the varieties of fish that are available there are unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever seen. The only comparison is the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. One of the things they had there that I had never seen before were Amazonian river fish. They’re these prehistoric fish, and they were making ceviche with them right there with fresh lime, salt, and red chiles. It was just one of these moments where you’re just blown away.

Some of your cooks have said that your recipes tend to be complicated and require many steps, which is also what some critics said about Latin Evolution. Is that the case with The Latin Road Home?

No, we wanted to do things differently with The Latin Road Home. We’re not asking home cooks to cryovac-bag proteins and sous vide them for 36 hours. [Laughs] A lot of it is one-pot cooking. We do some pressure cooking, but that’s a Latin way. The book is broken up into menus and essentials. The menus are meant to be, more or less, one-pot cooking dishes, so that they can be done in under an hour. So there’s three weekday, like, one-hour max, menus, and then there’s a weekend menu that’s fully blown out with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, the main course and dessert. Overall it’s more friendly and geared toward the home cook. It’s way more accessible than Latin Evolution.

Latin Evolution seems like it’s pretty heavy on technique, whereas this new book, The Latin Road Home seems like it leans more towards tradition.

I arrived at Latin Evolution through inspiration, and the recipes in The Latin Road Home are kind of like the things that inspired me. You can think of it as, like, a prequel to Latin Evolution. I’m going to throw everyone really off with the next book. It’s going to be the “Latin Revolution.” I want to create a sort of journal of how we are going to take this food forward.