Craig LaBan hosted Jose Garces on his online chat Tuesday. Here is a sampling:
Craig LaBan: Jose's ever-growing and multi-belled restaurant empire (Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, Village Whiskey) is a chat-room's favorite. But this visit is timely, because Sunday was the debut episode of his quest to become the Food Network's Next Iron Chef. Garces handily won the first challenge, to create a comfort food starter, with an Ecuadorian stew of annatto chicken broth and queso fresco.
Things got scary in the next round with the some frightening ingredients ranging from duck tongues to unlaid chicken eggs. Jose survived, and he's here to tell the tale, and answer questions.
CLB: Welcome, Jose! You must have been feeling a little, um, cocky, after winning the first challenge. But what went through your head with your next challenge ingredient - a pile of cock's combs?
Jose Garces: I was actually pretty comfortable with the cock's combs, since they're common in Spanish cuisine. While I've never cooked them before, getting them to the right texture was very important.
CLB: I've heard from other chefs who've competed on the regular Iron Chef that the show is not quite as spontaneous as it appears. Is The Next Iron Chef any different?
JG: The Next Iron Chef is very spontaneous. The cooking is real, the challenges are very creative, and there is truly not much time to prepare.
Reader: Does the show's editing and production exaggerate the conflicts among the contestants and judges?
JG: After watching the first episode, I thought the editing was pretty accurate. Chefs typically have strong personalities, and everyone is going for the ultimate crown.
Reader: Do you have concerns that your restaurant empire might get too big or that you might be spread too thin to properly manage it?
JG: One key factor is having great personnel. The managers and the chefs who have been with me since the beginning believe in what we're doing. My job is to nurture those relationships
Reader: What was your inspiration in opening Villiage Whiskey? The concept seems so different from your other restaurants.
JG: I'm a huge fan of burgers, and they're not my wife's favorite, so we don't cook them at home. I wanted a place to create the ultimate burger. We're grinding the meat fresh daily in-house, and it just makes all the difference in the world.
CLB: What effect has the rise of Internet forums had on the restaurant industry - and new places, in particular, like Village Whiskey? I see the value in buzz. But what about photos and complaints about soggy duck-fat fries within minutes of your first day in business?
Reader: Can you make the fries at Village Whisky more crisp? Please?
JG: We're using hand-cut fries and we're confiting them in duck fat with herbs and garlic. They are fried at 400 degrees. I'll guarantee you they are crispy when they leave that kitchen. Since they're a thicker fry, they absorb a good deal of flavor and they don't keep their crispiness as much. I've chosen flavor over texture. They stay crispy for about 6-7 minutes.
JG: Regarding the blogs, I think they're a great source for customers to sound off, and a valuable resource for instant feedback. It's important to focus on comments that come up again and again and use them to improve.
Reader: What are some of your favorite places to eat in Philadelphia that might not have the biggest names?
JG: I really like Sahara Grill on Walnut, Morimoto and Zento for sushi, Taquería Veracruzana for quick Mexican, Osteria for pizza, David's Mai Lai Wah for late-night Chinese, and New Delhi for Indian.
CLB: Are there concepts out there you hope to tackle some day?
JG: Believe it or not, I have been dreaming about a sausage and beer concept as well as a local farm-to-table concept.
Reader: You had me at sausage.
Reader: Empanada cart in Love Park, please?
CLB: OK, we can only dream . . . .