To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Center City District Restaurant Week, we’ll be spending time celebrating the chefs and restaurateurs—and some of their favorite recipes—as we get closer to the event.
This week, we’re excited to share some stories and insights from Chef Jose Garces. Known for appearances nationally on the Food Network, Jose Garces has launched several Restaurant Week staples, including Amada, The Olde Bar, and Village Whiskey.
What inspired your journey to become a chef?
JG: I’ve been cooking at my mother’s side since I was a child. It was just a part of life, of growing up. So many of my family memories center around the kitchen.
That said, I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a chef. When I graduated high school, I didn’t really have a sense of purpose or direction. I attended some college, but hadn’t yet found my passion. One day, I saw a billboard for Kendall College; a culinary school. It struck my fancy and I went to check it out.
What I saw there, the brigade system, the level of discipline, was something that appealed to me, oddly enough. I started up and found that I actually had a real talent for it. Once I graduated, I went off to Spain to learn more about the cuisine and cooking in European kitchens. I fell in love with it. The rest is history.
What inspired your approach to cooking?
JG: Culinary creativity and creating memorable food experiences in any way shape or form. Whether it’s creating the best fresh fish taco (shout out to Buena Onda) or crafting a bespoke multi course 5 star meal, my approach is based in a strong love and respect for the act and art of hospitality. Hospitality first. Hospitality always.
What has been the proudest moment of your journey as a chef?
JG: I’ve been so blessed to have experienced a number of great honors in my culinary journey. Obviously, winning Iron Chef and becoming one of the few chefs with that title was a huge deal for me. It changed the trajectory of my career, but I think my James Beard Award was one of my proudest moments, because it was an honor that was placed on me by my peers.
More recently, I was appointed to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition, which gives me the opportunity to work with other leaders in these fields (doctors, athletes, chefs and policy makers) to create opportunities to engage the community with ways to improve access to sports, nutrition and fitness and highlight the importance of same.
Can you tell us about the recipe you shared including the story behind it, its inspiration, and why you chose to submit it for our recipe card series?
JG: The gambas al ajillo is one of my favorite dishes that we cook at Amada. It’s a classic Spanish dish, super simple, but incredibly flavorful. It’s perfect for a quick snack, or for a dinner party, if you want to impress someone.
It’s just garlic, olive oil, chiles, shrimp, and a touch of lemon, served with crostini, but it hits the spot perfectly regardless of the event.
How have you seen Center City evolve since opening?
JG: Amada is over 16 years old at this point and Center City has been through multiple waves since then. I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is the expansion of what is perceived as Center City.
There have been huge changes in Old City, where Amada and Olde Bar are located and I think that the changes can be looked at in two distinct eras. There are the changes that occurred and were occurring prior to COVID and then the COVID and post-covid era.
Prior to COVID, we were seeing a series of changes that were leading to a real resurgence of restaurant and hospitality culture in the city. In the time that I’ve had restaurants in the city, we’ve transformed into a dining destination, not just in the Northeast Region, but on a global stage.
Post COVID, obviously there was a huge shakeup in the industry as a result of the pandemic, but I appreciated seeing the way the industry came together to support each other through the pandemic. I’m hopeful that as we move out of the pandemic, we can continue that level of support and continue our journey as a dining destination.
We thank Jose for sharing these stories, and encourage you to learn more about the restaurants on the Garces Group website. And don’t forget to check out all of the amazing restaurant options in Center City!