When we crossed paths with Jose Garces in 2004, he was working for restaurant impresario Steven Starr. We knew then the kid was going places. A year after we named him a Rising Star, Garces opened his first restaurant, Amada, and never looked back. Today, 10 years later, he’s created an empire called Garces Group, which operates restaurants in Philadelphia, Chicago, Scottsdale, Palm Springs and Washington DC. He also owns 40-acre Luna Farm in Bucks County, PA, where his team grows produce for many of his restaurants. On top of that, he operates Distrito Taco Truck and a full-service event planning company called Garces Catering. He’s the author of two cookbooks and one of only a handful to win the coveted title of Iron Chef. Jose Garces is no ordinary man.
1. High-quality salt. Good salt, such as Maldon, Himalayan or Hawaiian smoked is absolutely essential. It allows ingredients’ natural flavors to really pop.
2. Big Green Egg. At my Argentine steakhouse, Rural Society (in Chicago and DC) we cook over charcoal and quebracho (Argentine hardwood) on the parrilla (grill). At home, I get a similar effect with my Big Green Egg grill, which also uses solid fuels. It turns out killer steaks, kebobs and even pizza.
3. Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. This is a cookbook by Francis Mallman, an Argentine chef who is the authority on cooking over fire. The book has been indispensable for helping us understand all the traditional grilling methods used in Argentina.
4. Melissa Scully. She’s our v.p. of culinary development at Garces Group. She’s been with me since my first restaurant, Amada. Melissa is organized, thorough and makes a restaurant opening look like a breeze.
5. Empanadas de verde. One of my go-to recipes is green plantain empanadas. My favorite version comes from my Ecuadorian grandmother, Mamita Amada. Even now, well over the age of 90, she still makes the best empanadas de verde. It was a great joy when I finally mastered the technique of forming dough from the starches in boiled plantains.