On Monday, October 8, Lake Isle Press released The Latin Road Home, the second cookbook from Iron Chef, James Beard Award winner, and Philadelphian Chef Jose Garces. The Latin Road Home ($35, Hardcover) is at once a cookbook, a travelogue and a memoir, offering a fascinating and personal look back at the food traditions that have shaped his life and cooking, from his family’s ancestral home in Ecuador to his ongoing work as an award-winning chef and restaurateur across the U.S.
Garces took a few minutes of his time to answer a few of our burning questions. Read on to find out where he spends his time when he’s not cooking or eating, the one menu item he’d never live without, and how Philadelphia finds its way into everything he does including The Latin Road Home.
R: Favorite recipe from the new book?
JG: “So many of these recipes speak to me on a personal level, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my food-loving heart for my mom’s Fritada, or fried pork, described in the Ecuador chapter. It’s a brilliant cooking technique – the meat is slowly cooked in a mixture of stock and oil, making it other-worldly tender, and then once all the stock has evaporated, the oil fries it in the same pan for texture and tons of porky flavor. To me, this smells and tastes like home.”
R: Any inspiration from the city in the book?
JG: “It is impossible to separate my story as a chef from my story as a Philadelphian, and I think there are traces of Philly all over this book. From my work with Douglas Rodriguez at Alma de Cuba – ironically, where I met my Cuban wife, while she was working to put herself through dental school – to the rich influences of Mexico City that brought Distrito to life, to the Peruvian pilgrimage that yielded Chifa and much more, my development as a chef and as a person has been rooted to Philadelphia for over a decade now, and I wouldn’t have the same story to tell if I hadn’t landed here and adopted it as my hometown.”
R: Foodie advice to Philadelphians?
JG: “I hardly need to tell you this, but: be bold, be adventurous, and be unafraid to try something new! One of my favorite things about this city is the open-mindedness of our diners and their willingness to sample new things (and express candidly what they think about them), and it’s advice that I try to pass on to anyone I meet. Food is a window into culture. Don’t be afraid to take a look.”
R: What’s your favorite restaurant in Philly that’s not one of your own?
JG: “For a decadent dinner out, there is no place in Philadelphia – or, that I’ve found, in the world – like Vetri. It’s an experience that every diner in the city owes it to themselves to try.”
R: Favorite thing to do in the city that’s NOT food related.
JG: “Mountain biking in Wissahickon Park.”
R: If you could cook only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JG: “Rice. I do get to choose as many flavorings and additions as I want, right? Rice is critical to so many Latin dishes, and it’s an essential building block for many of the meals that I love.”
R: Final message to Philadelphians.
JG: “I’m so proud to be a part of this city, and it would be impossible for me to write a ‘final message to Philadelphians’ right now, because I think our story together is going to continue for many years to come.”
The celebration of the book release will run through to November 11, when Garces’ Philadelphia restaurants will serve dedicated tasting menus, largely informed by their culinary styles, featuring recipes from specific chapters of the book. Tastings will range in price from $45 to $75 and will feature four or five courses, depending on location. JG Domestic will feature Ecuador; Amada (217-219 Chestnut Street, 215-625-2450) and Tinto (114-116 South 20th Street, 215-665-9150) will feature Spain; Garces Trading Company (1111 Locust Street, 215-574-1099) will feature Cuba; Distrito (3945 Chestnut Street, 215-222-1657) will feature Mexico; and Chifa (707 Chestnut Street, 215-925-5555) will feature Peru. For more details about tasting menus, please contact your restaurant of choice directly.
If you’re interested in trying out some of the recipes on your own, The Latin Road Home will available for purchase at all seven of his Philadelphia restaurants, including copies that have been signed by the chef, throughout the October.