Jose Garces may make you feel like you're not doing enough with your life. The Chicago-born chef is only in his early 30s, but has already won the Iron Chef competition numerous times, taken home the James Beard Award for best mid-Atlantic chef (he's currently based in Philadelphia), and opened over a dozen restaurants in Philadelphia, Scottsdale, Ariz., Atlantic City, and Palm Springs. Both his eateries in Palm Springs are in the fabulous, colorful Saguaro Hotel, a favorite of gay travelers, and they've become destination restaurants in P.S. El Jefe is Garces's Mexican cantina, a fabulous stop for margaritas, tacos, and ceviches. Tinto is his formal restaurant, a place for delicious Basque tapas and top-notch wine. We caught up with Garces to talk about food in Palm Springs (here's more on that subject).
Out Traveler: Why did you want to have Basque tapas restaurant for Palm Springs?
Garces: I thought reduced portion sizes would be a good concept there. I think the flavors of Northern Spain are interesting and unique to the area and it’s a flavor profile the area hasn’t seen in some time.
And how about El Jefe?
We thought that having this idea of a roadside motorcycle tequila and taco bar was fun and I do Mexican cuisine in Philadelphia in many locations. So I think we did it pretty well; we thought it would be an inviting bar and eatery as you walk into the lobby of the hotel and from the street you can see it as well. The thought was to have a place that was fun, festive, and approachable. Tinto is a little more serious in terms of dining and wine list.
How would you describe the culinary scene in Palm Springs? Is there room for experimentation?
I think so. I think there’s room anywhere you go, whether it’s Palm Springs or Carlsbad. People’s palates are always evolving and what we offer is something that’s unique and flavorful and executed well. If you can offer something that’s unique and has fresh ingredients and is made with care, you can pretty much do anything.
You have restaurants all over the country. What food cities are getting you excited now?
The scene in San Francisco is pretty exciting. Some good things in L.A. Obviously, New York; that’s just a quick train ride for me. The food is always evolving there. Those three cities and New Orleans obviously has some classic cuisine that’s always at the forefront.
Your parents are from Ecuador. Why don’t we see many Ecuadorian restaurants in this country?
There’s a handful in Chicago, a few in New York, mostly in Queens. The food can be somewhat heavy and starchy and it just needs a very delicate interpretation for the American market. I can see it coming almost in the same way Peruvian cuisine has in the U.S.
Is it something you’ve thought of as an upcoming concept for you?
That’s always been in my back pocket but I'm not quite ready for that yet.
On Iron Chef, are the music and lights actually part of the show or is some of it added later?
It’s definitely part of the show.
Did it affect you?
I win pretty regularly so it doesn’t affect me that much.
You seem very cool and collected.
That’s on the outside. Inside there a lot of other things going on.