Conversation with Jose Garces
Philadelphians have a diverse palate, and the City’s chefs are crafting inventive dishes that you can’t find anywhere else. Small plates and tapas — which allows guests the opportunity to try a little bit of everything on the menu — is one of the hottest trends. To help guide you through the big world of small plates, we asked none other than Jose Garces, Philadelphia’s own Iron Chef and master of tapas, for tips.
Q: WHAT ARE TAPAS, AND WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO FEATURE THEM IN YOUR RESTAURANTS?
JG: ‘Tapas’ refers to a Spanish style of dining that’s most often found in wine bars — small portions of goodies such as cured olives, charcuterie, cheeses and other snacks that are ordered individually and shared among friends over a glass of wine (or several!). My first restaurant, Amada, is an Andalusian tapas bar and restaurant. The response in Philadelphia was so great that I knew serving small plates of food for people to sample and share, whatever the cuisine, would become my signature style.
Q: ANY ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME TAPAS DINERS?
JG: Every restaurant is different, but most places that offer small-plates train their staff very carefully to make sure they can accurately explain the style of service and guide guests through the menu. In my restaurants, the staff tastes every item on the menu and can be a great tool when helping you order so you’ll enjoy a delicious, memorable meal that fits both your appetite and your budget.
Q: SINCE WE’RE SHARING HERE, WHAT’S YOUR RULE ON DOUBLE-DIPPING?
JG: Oh, come on — the more, the merrier! I try not to share a meal with anyone who I wouldn’t want “double-dipping,” which is good for food purposes, and, I find, a good life guideline in general.
Q: WITH THE WEATHER NOW COOLER, WHAT CAN DINERS EXPECT ON PHILADELPHIA MENUS?
JG: Autumn and winter are great seasons for chefs here in the Northeast. Squash, pumpkins, root veggies and other hearty produce bring depth of flavor to soups, sides and sauces, while rich, flavorful meats such as venison and duck allow us to experiment with ever-broader ranges of preparations and create some of the most homey, comforting meals that I can remember. I’m particularly fond of working with chestnuts during the colder months. We serve a chestnut soup at Tinto that guests beg us to bring back year after year. Each fall, we vary the recipe slightly to keep it fresh and new.
Q: WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PART ABOUT TAPAS DINING?
JG: Sharing food creates an instant bond among people at a table. It’s the most sociable way to dine and perfect for everything from a first date to a family dinner.
Q: WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A CHEF HERE?
JG: My very favorite thing about Philadelphia is the people: We’re tough, proud and not afraid to speak our minds. When you’re out to eat, say hello to the folks around you. You might just make a new friend or learn about a great restaurant, park or art exhibit that you never would have found otherwise. We love our city, and we love sharing it!
Q: WHY DO YOU THINK THE TAPAS TREND IS SO POPULAR HERE IN PHILADELPHIA?
JG: Philadelphia is a great food town because our diners are adventurous, and that spirit is ideal for small-plates dining. Not everyone is bold enough to order a dish they’ve never tried before, but when it’s a small plate, it’s easier to take a little risk and discover new tastes.
Sample amazing global dishes at any of Garces’ Philadelphia restaurants: