Q & A with Jose Garces

Chef Jose Garces is coming to Chicago. Who’s that? A James Beard–nominee you probably never heard of. After all, we don’t pay a bunch of attention to the Mid-Atlantic category. Maybe we should. Garces is a 35-year-old Chicago-born Kendall grad who owns two highly acclaimed restaurants in Philadelphia: Amada, an Andalusian tapas bar, and Tinto, a Basque-inspired wine bar. And he’s about to launch Chilango, a high-energy Mexican spot in Philly. That’s nice. But, even nicer, Garces plans to open Mercat early next year in the renovated Blackstone Hotel at 600 South Michigan Avenue. We had a few questions for the prodigal son.

D: Why did you leave Chicago?
JG: After Kendall, I split. I figured 22 years was a pretty good stay there. I wanted to explore Europe and cook in New York.

D: How did you land in Philadelphia?
JG: I was working for Douglas Rodriguez in New York. I was sous-chef for him there and I had the opportunity to be the executive chef of a new concept in Philly in 2000–2001. For me it was a good steppingstone in my career. So I took it.

D: When did you open your first restaurant?
JG: I opened Amada, in 2005. It’s more of a traditional Spanish restaurant. Has influence from all over Spain, but mainly southern Spain. Andalusia.

D: Tell us about Mercat.
JG: A 162-seat tapas restaurant. Tapas and a big plancha section. Grilled proteins. Grilled meats and fish, à la carte. The menu will be very unique to Chicago. Inspired by Barcelona and the Catalan region of Spain. I’m heading back to Barcelona for the third time this August for more research and development.

D: You know, your old boss Rodriguez opened DeLaCosta here.
JG: A little competition from Mr. Rodriguez won’t be bad. He’s a close friend of mine.

D: So you’re up for the challenge.
JG: Right off the bat, we will be the number one Spanish restaurant in Chicago. Bar none. Based on what we do here and what we are going to do there, it should be. There’s a fine appreciation for Spanish food in Chicago.

D: When will Mercat open?
JG: We have a date of December 19th, but realistically mid-January. I would say it looks like January, to be safe.