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Jose Garces Talks About Returning to Philly, Craig LaBan, and Squashing the Chifa Rumor-Mill

Jose garces
Jose garces
Photo: Garces Restaurant Group

Since becoming an Iron Chef, Philly has seen less and less of our national culinary ambassador, Jose Garces. He's quickly expanding an empire across the country, opening restaurants in Arizona and California, and later this year at the shore in Atlantic City. Closer to home, we've seen his sausage spot, Frohman's Wursthaus, sit idle for three years, and JG Domestic fail to live up to almost impossibly lofty expectations. Has the local golden boy lost his touch at home?

Eater chatted up Jose Garces to see what he plans for Philly in 2012, and about his renewed commitment to his fans in Philly who adore and miss him in the kitchen. Garces also weighs in on the new 4-Bell landscape set out by critic Craig LaBan this past weekend.

Why is Frohman's Wursthaus (208 S. 13th Street) taking so long? It's been rumored since 2009.
You know, that was a case of partnership issues. The team I was working with were dragging their feet. So, recently I decided to go ahead on my own, so it's happening right now. I'm not blaming anyone else, it's just that a decision needed to be made. It's going to open in May. I say summer, but let's just say May. I want to have it open before Beer Week.

We haven't seen much of you in the kitchen recently. We understand you're busy, but speaking as a diner in Philadelphia, we miss you. Are you coming back?
You know, I never really left. I have been focusing on getting other projects up and running, but I hear that I'm missed from a lot of fans, and I love it. Maybe I just need to get on Twitter more to let people know where I am. I have been in the kitchen at JG Domestic the last week. And, I was at Chifa last night. But, you're right, I see how it comes off that way. And, I'm definitely going to be more interactive with my supporters this coming year.

We would love to see you come back and do a residency of sorts at Amada, maybe spend a month in the kitchen like a homecoming. What do you think?
That's a great idea. I love it. Maybe I will, I'll let you know.

Speaking of JG Domestic, when it launched there was a lot of heavy praise and expectations heaped on it, but it never really seemed to take off. Craig LaBan even said it was going to be your "French Laundry," which is almost impossible to live up to. What's the plan over there?
Well, critically the food got a lot of praise, but we knew that it would be a problem at dinner because of the location. And it's been a slow burn. But, now that the other projects are off and running, we're going to really push JG and get it where it needs to be. We're fully committed to evolving the restaurant, and it's very personal to me. 2012 will be a big year for JG Domestic. There's a lot of pressure on that project, and truly great restaurants take time.

Since we're on the subject of Craig LaBan, how did you feel about the commentary that your restaurants will never earn a fourth bell unless you're in the kitchen, and what are your thoughts on the new 4-bell club?
Craig has always been great to us, first of all. And, maybe there is some validity to his commentary about me being in the kitchen. But, I feel as though our restaurants are on par with the others that had such high praise. I guess some of it rubbed me the wrong way. I still feel as though having a wine program is integral to the fine dining experience. And, there was definitely some inconsistency on what constituted four bells.

There were insider rumors going around that Chifa would be shuttered and JG Domestic move into the space at 7th and Chestnut. Simultaneously, the JG Domestic space would then become the catering arm of GRG. Can you comment on any of that?
It's absolutely untrue. Chifa did very well last year, and we are going to push the restaurant more on the Peruvian side going forward, but both of those restaurants are still very much alive.

At a certain point while your star was rising, you had to make a choice. Become the next Marc Vetri or Stephen Starr. While you're definitely a hybrid of the two, your leanings are more Starr-based in regards to expansion and concept development. Why did you choose that path, and do you ever regret it?
Well I live here, my hub is here. My wife's practice is here, my kids go to school here, so we're definitely Philly. I chose to expand the brand nationally for a few reasons. Financially, of course, it's hard to turn down. But, I also liked the idea of being a brand across the U.S. and representing Philadelphia. I'm proud of being from here, and there's never any confusion when I'm out in Arizona where I'm from. But, when I do a personal restaurant concept just for me, it's going to be here in Philly.

So, do you have any aspirations of just going back to cooking full-time? You still rank as one of the most talented chefs to ever to cook in Philly, and we'd be happy to have you back.
I already have things in progress for a project just like that. It's not going to be the Kimmel Center project. But, it's going to be a small restaurant with very limited seats, and just me in the kitchen. My menu, my ideas, me working the pans doing whatever I want. I'll get that fourth bell, and that will be the restaurant to do it. I can't wait to show everyone.

We can't wait either. Thanks for your time, chef.
Thank you.

· Garces Restaurant Group [Official]
· All Jose Garces Coverage [~E~]