“Iron Chef” Jose Garces on Inheriting His Love of Cooking from His Mother

Chef Jose Garces Iron Chef Jose Garces on Inheriting His Love of Cooking from His Mother
Photo: Courtesy of Garces Restaurant Group

Jose Garces wasn’t born an “Iron Chef” but this top competitor, James Beard award-winning chef, and master of Latin cuisine’s culinary ambitions took shape from an early age. An American chef born to Ecuadorian parents and raised in Chicago, Chef Garces began his culinary training in the kitchen of his paternal grandmother and mother.

The winner of “The Next Iron Chef,” Chef Garces, whose Philadelphia restaurants include Amada, Distrito, and Tinto, notes, “My introduction to food came in our family kitchen, growing up in Chicago. My mother was always an amazing cook, and she loved to involve us in preparing meals. That was doubly true when her mother-in-law, my Mamita Amada, for whom my first restaurant is named, came to visit from Ecuador. She would stay for a week or longer, and it seemed as if she never left the kitchen.” He continues, “I was always drawn to the warmth of working beside the two of them to create hearty meals for our family, and that love of cooking is what eventually led me to culinary school and my career.”

Garces, who is now appearing on the 2010 season of “Iron Chef America,” says, “Even today, many of the dishes that we serve at my restaurants are inspired by their recipes. My mother was something of a wizard with empanadas, and I’ve re-imagined them on the menus of many of my restaurants, including a signature ‘Amada’s Empanada at Amada that has been a top-selling menu item since we opened in October 2005. It’s a plantain pastry stuffed with manchego cheese and spinach, served sliced open over an artichoke escabeche.  I also serve a jumbo lump crab-stuffed version at Chifa, with sweet chile reduction and shaved cucumber.”

“I’ve been privileged to work with some of the finest chefs in America and Spain,” says Chef Garces, “but my passion for cooking comes from my early memories…. Even when I was a child, I was drawn to the joy of cooking a great meal. I have always loved the way that food can transform a person’s whole outlook and really make their day.”

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