When he's not at one of his 15 restaurants scattered across five different cities, Jose Garces can sometimes be found on the set of "Iron Chef America," scrambling to create a meal out of secret ingredients in "Kitchen Stadium." But even though his flagship Amada has been packed since opening in 2005, Garces considers his own kitchen an escape.
"More so then ever I find cooking a really calming, soothing place to be," says the Ecuadoran-American chef. "I have that time in the kitchen where I can just relax, I'll have the game on, a glass of wine -- just doing it."
Like his cooking, Garces' new cookbook, "The Latin Road Home," is about more than the food. Part menus, part memoir, it looks at five countries -- Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Peru -- that have shaped his life, career and approach to the culinary arts. While it's a journey that tastes pretty well-rounded, it's clear that there will be a sequel. Even at this stage in the game -- he owns seven restaurants in the city -- Garces is still learning, particularly on his Bucks County farm.
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"It's new to me, for sure. I grew up in Chicago, in the city, and so it's exciting, it's great to be out there," he says of Luna Farms. "At home, we plan pretty extensive meals, and since we've gotten the farm, we've been inspired to use all the fresh vegetables we're harvesting. When you have that bounty, it forces creativity."
We asked Garces for some expert advice on dining out in Philly:
“Recently I went to Tashan and had a great meal. I recommend the minced Kobe kebab — it’s delicious. All their breads are really good, too.”
“I also recently went to Kanella. They have really fresh Cypriot cuisine. It was really tasty — had that authentic, Mediterranean feel to it.”
It’s not all picturesque produce on Garces’ farm. After attempting to salvage a field of overdue tomatoes, he got a taste of what it’s like to lose to a veggie (welcome to our world, Jose).
“We went up to the farm and we were like, we’re going to lose a lot of tomatoes. So we go through this whole process to decore and skin the tomatoes so we could can them. We had them in a cooler, and then the next day they were bad. So they went back in the compost, which felt OK,” he says.
If you go
“The Latin Road Home” officially hits counter tops Monday. To celebrate, Garces is hosting a dinner Tuesday night at JG Domestic ($125, 2929 Arch St.) featuring dishes from each of the book’s five chapters, along with a signed copy of the book itself.