Following a relatively quiet spell after Avance's early exit, Eater learned last week that chef Justin Bogle had accepted a job as corporate executive chef for his old boss, Jose Garces. (Bogle's first kitchen job out of culinary school was under Garces at Alma de Cuba, back in 2002.) In his new role, reps confirmed, Bogle will serve as opening chef at Garces' upcoming NYC outpost of his flagship restaurant, Amada.
Still, it was unclear whether the promising chef (and Philly native) would be making a permanent return to New York, or exactly what the job would entail. So Eater caught up with Bogle at Volver, where he's currently stationed, to chat about his first few weeks with the Garces Group, what his future holds there, and why this was the logical next step after the heartbreak at Avance.
Eater Philly: So when did you officially start with the Garces Group?
Justin Bogle: January 5, so right after the New Year. We were in talks, me and Jose, sort of since Avance closed. He came in for dinner, I think it was our second-to-last service, and we just kind of started talking after that. That opened up the conversation that led to this.
Had you talked to him at all in the intervening years [since working at Alma de Cuba]?
Yeah, for sure, we would run into each other at events and stuff like that.
Did you work very closely with him back then, in the day-to-day?
Yes, I was at Alma de Cuba when Jose was the chef de cuisine over there. I started out as a line cook and then worked my way up to a sous chef position over there.
So what have you been doing since you started?
Kind of been all over the place. It's a big group at this point, so there's a lot for me to wrap my head around. The first week was orientation, getting to know the properties, getting to know the management staff and the chefs de cuisine at all the restaurants — or trying to, at least. I spent some time down at Olde Bar, like the first week that they opened, so just lending an extra hand here and there. It was like that for the first couple of weeks, and now I'm here [at Volver], working with Nat [Maronski], and we're trying to get our hands on some menu changes over here. Myself and the rest of the team had a meeting with Jose last week, so we're head-first into some menu development here. It's fun, it's been cool to be able to have some hand in helping this place evolve.
It'll be great to see more changes to the menu here, there's so much room in the concept for more fun stuff.
It's such a beautiful restaurant, and a lot could be done here. It's kind of one of the dream spots, you know, as a chef: tasting menu only, 35 seats. So we're looking to have a lot more fun over here.
It seems like they've had to reconfigure a lot of other things early on, and maybe the menu took a bit of a backseat to that.
Well, I think that's just a restaurant in general. Your first year, you make adjustments, you see what works and what doesn't work, what the city wants and what it doesn't want, and you learn from it and adjust accordingly and move forward. That's kind of where we are right now.
So right now, you're actively working on menu development. Will that be what you'll be doing at all of the restaurants?
At this point... maybe? I don't really know. This is where I'm stationed right now, to support these guys and work with the team. If we can cruise through a menu change pretty fast, then who knows, maybe I'll be somewhere else soon. Until the New York thing jumps off, I think that will be my role: wherever the hands are needed. Which is fine for me, and it's exciting — getting to know cuisine that, you know, I may not have done in a while or be too familiar with. So it's a learning experience as well, which is cool.
Volver, specifically, seems like it's a good fit for your style.
Yeah, this is a good fit; it's more along the lines of what I've done in the past, and I was excited to get to help out over here.
But then there are also so many different things that Jose does now. Is that scary?
It was overwhelming, at first. I've always followed, through the media, what Jose's been doing — but even so, as soon as I got to orientation it was like, "...oh, and that? And that? Wow." It is overwhelming. But to see the team that he has put in place to run the group, you don't really have to worry about it. He's got the right people, and you can see that he's done his homework to make sure that all of these operations run smoothly and properly. It's a little intimidating from the outside, but once you see the inner workings, it's a good thing.
Have you actually been cooking here at Volver, on the line on a nightly basis, I mean?
I've been hanging out with them. I kind of let them do your thing and I'm honestly just like an extra hand, you know. I try not to get in anybody's way; they have their groove over here.
Do you have an idea of how long it's going to be before the New York restaurant opens? Last we heard, it sounded like it might be around the summer.
Yeah, really, it's been pretty vague at this point. I really have no idea. I wish I did; my wife wishes we did, too! But it's kind of up in the air, as it is with any restaurant opening, especially a first venture in New York. Things are unlikely to stick to the schedule that we'd initially written.
And it sounds like everything in [Brookfield Place] is on a different schedule...
Yeah. It's funny, before I moved back to Philly, we lived right down there in the Financial District, so that Shake Shack over there was kind of our hangout. I'm excited to get back up there and see what they've turned it into, because it was kind of under construction while we were there. There were just all these signs up saying "this is coming, that's coming," so it'll be cool to go back and see it turned into what they said it would be.
Are you planning on relocating?
Yeah, for the time, definitely. I think, when opening Amada anywhere, you'd need to devote some time to it! Commuting, I think, would be an absolute nightmare. So nothing's permanent, but definitely moving up there for it, to be available at all times, since it's going to be a big undertaking. I'm not looking to have to hop on BoltBus or Amtrak at two o'clock in the morning.
So you'll be able to just concentrate on that alone until things get going, and then...?
Yeah, I think the plan is to get it open, get it running, and then we'll see where the position leads me after that. Nothing's set in stone, but I'm hoping it is what we want it to be, and then I can roll back into more of a development role. But who knows? We'll see.
When you do open Amada NYC, is it going to be very similar to our Amada, or is he hoping to branch out into something a little more new for New York?
I'll be honest, we haven't had the chance to talk about that kind of detail yet too much, since most of the focus has been here so far. But Amada is definitely a brand, and it's Jose's flagship, so there will definitely be some heavy Amada Philly influence, I'm sure. But I know we are looking to expand on that in New York; going into a new market, I think it's smart that we build upon it.
Since he is expanding more all over the place, like in D.C. and Chicago, have you talked at all about whether you'll have a hand in all of that?
No clue. I'm just playing it all by ear right now, but in that role that I am, I don't see why not at some point.
So is this all good? I have to assume you were pretty devastated [after Avance closed].
Heartbroken? Devastated? Yeah, it was huge. It was pretty awful to put your heart and soul into something, literally, and then have it not go as planned. It's kind of brutal. But for me, this is... you know, when you throw your heart in the wind like that, and have it not work, something like this such a good step for me and my career at this point. I was doing my own thing for so long, on more of an independent level, as far as restaurants are concerned. And I think getting into a group like this, that is stable, that has legs and is doing the right thing — again, it's been a good learning experience already, to work under people that have done things on such big levels. It will round out my career, you know? Parts of my career where I can see holes in my game, I can patch those up working for such a good group.
It does seem like a tremendous opportunity, but are you at all worried about not getting to do your own food?
No, not really. You know, that's always there. I'm sure, some day, who knows how far down the line, but I'll get back to that at some point. There's so many avenues you can take in the culinary world, and it's just a different path. You can sort of veer off to the right and then circle back around at some point. So I'm not terribly concerned about that.
Are you hoping to be able to put more of your influence into what he does? Because it seems like, especially with the opening of Volver, he's got a little more of a growing interest in the kind of food that you were doing.
Right, over here it's definitely a natural fit, and we had a really good conversation at the beginning of the week about the menu over here. But again, Jose has his vision, and his brand, and his goals that he needs to uphold. I'm just here to support that and if my ideas make it onto the menu, then they do, but I think it's more of a collaboration and a supportive role, and that's good for me right now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.