Who is Jose Garces? And Why Are You So Crazy About His Restaurants?

While Philly food legends Susanna Foo and Georges Perrier are closing the doors on some of their restaurants, upstart Jose Garces is doing the opposite: opening up five eateries in four years and being featured on the Food Network. Meet our next Stephen Starr

Scully, like so many GRG staffers, liked that idea. There’s something appealing about working for a person who has been in your shoes — and who could step back into them at a moment’s notice. She came aboard, first as a manager, and now as the restaurant group’s director of operations, where she has become known as the intense, i-dotting and t-crossing yang to Garces’s laid-back, creative-thinking yin.

It was Scully who’d help implement a version of Starr’s meticulously detail-­oriented systems. Together, she and Garces would adopt a similar dining-as-entertainment ethos; they’d carefully control their environments; they’d implement seamless operational structure. Even their group’s name, the Garces Restaurant Group, would mirror that of Starr’s Starr Restaurant Organization. Still, there would be a distinct difference between the models. A difference that has to do with Garces being a chef by training — but also an all-around Everyguy.

ON A TYPICAL WORKDAY, Garces splits his time between his office — a small, spare space behind Amada — and one or more restaurants. He’ll come in around 11 a.m., make a call to Aizaki, meet with an investor, check out food costs, sign a form or two, stand to type an e-mail about a menu, and work on business-minded concerns that involve terms such as “value engineering” and “industry standard.”

Come early afternoon, he’ll step away from the computer and hop onto his Vespa, heading in the direction of whichever restaurant needs his help. Once he’s arrived, he demands no more attention than he did during opening night at Chifa. He’ll slip into the locker room to change into his chef’s whites and Crocs, clear a small workspace, and start on a new recipe. When he needs an ingredient — say, some fish sauce, or cilantro — either he goes to the walk-in to fetch it, or he turns around and softly, politely, switches to Spanish to ask for what he needs from a prep cook. Items assembled, he moves as if he’s doing a chemistry project, slowly, carefully, measuring and then blending, tasting and then blending some more, plating up his product, then asking his chefs to taste, too.

The same sort of thing happens when Garces attends a tasting for Village Whiskey. Dave Conn, chef de cuisine at the new restaurant, has been working all day in Tinto’s kitchen to present his boss with a trio of smothered and covered burgers (tip: do not miss these burgers), a dish of decadently crispy duck-fat-fries, and a neat pair of cheese and charcuterie plates. Garces quietly samples each item with Tinto GM Robert Scully (Melissa’s husband) — a bite here, a bite there. It takes him 10, maybe 15 minutes to assess the entire menu.

When Conn emerges for the critique, Garces, who hasn’t written down a word, offers feedback that’s relaxed yet unambiguous. The burgers, obviously, rock, but the cheddar sauce for the fries needs rethinking. Garces offers up an alternative recipe — which, shockingly, includes Cheez Whiz. But it’s what he doesn’t do that’s interesting. He doesn’t preach. He doesn’t insist Conn follow his orders. He just listens, and encourages. He’s the boss. But he’s not bossy.