'Iron Chef' Jose Garces on Immigration Reform, Abolishing Tips, and the 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Fest

The chef will be participating in this year’s Burger Bash in South Beach

Garces will be serving the 'Whiskey King' from Village Whiskey at the 2015 Burger Bash.

Jose Garces is one of Philadelphia’s most prominent chefs, with some of the best restaurants in the city including DistritoVolver, and Village Whiskey. He also runs his own catering company as well as his own farm, and – oh yeah – he’s also an Iron Chef. Garces will be participating in the upcoming 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and we had the opportunity to ask him some questions about what he’ll be serving, what he has in the works, his experience on Iron Chef, tipping, and immigration reform.

The Daily Meal: What are you most looking forward to at South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBE) this year?
Chef Jose Garces: I’m looking forward to blowing people away with our burger at the Burger Bash, of course! I’m also looking forward to checking out the new additions to Miami’s restaurant and dining scene, especially in burgeoning neighborhoods like Wynwood and the Design District.

If I have time, I’d love to sneak away to Little Havana to snag a Cubano sandwich at Latin American Cafeteria. No visit to Miami feels complete without one.

How are you planning on serving your burger at Burger Bash?
Our burger is the Whiskey King from Village Whiskey in Philadelphia.  It’s topped with maple bourbon-glazed cipollini onions, Rogue bleu cheese, applewood bacon, and foie gras.  There are complex layers of flavor and it’s luxuriously rich, so I’m confident it’ll be a hit.

What are you working on these days? Anything new projects on the horizon?
We are always working on something new.  Our latest opening on January 9 was The Olde Bar at the former Old Original Bookbinder’s building in Philadelphia.  At The Olde Bar, we’re paying homage to the dockside traditions of the city, with classic dishes like snapper soup and an incredible cocktail program.  We’re going to do our best to recreate the nostalgia of that time period, but with our own spin.

We also just announced that the second location of our Argentine steakhouse, Rural Society, will be opening this spring at the Loews Chicago Hotel.   

How does owning your own farm affect the way you think about produce?
Ultimately, growing ingredients at Luna Farm lends a level of quality control that I simply couldn’t find if someone else was preparing the products I plan to serve.  I’ve always found that food that is produced mindfully tends to be superior in quality, and it is virtually impossible not to be mindful of what you’re growing when you adhere to organic practices.  As a result, I often choose organic produce, meat, and fish over conventional. To my mind, it’s a question of choosing the finest possible ingredients as the building blocks for creating the best tasting dishes.​

What’s the best compliment you’ve received from an Iron Chef Judge? 
I became an Iron Chef when I won season two of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef. The final battle was Ribs & Racks. Bobby Flay’s take on my menu for that challenge was that I was worthy of joining him and the other Iron Chefs based on the dishes, techniques, and flavors. It was like gaining approval from one of the elders of the club.

 What are your thoughts on not having professional chefs be iron Chef judges?
Having judges that come from all parts of the industry is important in providing a variety of different perspectives on food. If all of the judges were chefs, we might not see as many facets in terms of the ways one can think about food.

President Obama is moving to offer legal-worker status to millions of undocumented immigrants, which some experts predict will lead restaurant workers to seek higher-paying jobs. What are your thoughts on immigration reform with regards to kitchen workers?
Considering that the restaurant industry is the fifth largest employer of Latinos in Philadelphia, it’s incredibly important that we take care of this community. In 2012, we launched the Garces Foundation, which is committed to ensuring that Philadelphia’s underserved immigrant community has access to medical, educational, and nutritional services. I’m really proud of our programs, which include classes for English for the Restaurant and Everyday Living, quarterly Community Health Days that provide access to medical and dental care and screening, and educational field trips to Luna Farm to learn about nutrition.


What are your thoughts on the increasing number of restaurants that are abolishing tipping? Have you considered giving up tipping at any of your restaurants?
I'm not sure that it would work for our restaurants at the moment, but if we could do it in a way that would be fair to both the customer and the staff and ensure proper compensation for services provided, it's worth looking at.