I had the pleasure of making Chef Richard Garcia's acquaintance through a friend of mine at the Chef's Collaborative, and I am so glad that she recommend I give him a call. Not only is Richard a terrific chef, but he is very engaged in the food world outside of his restaurant, with a particular interest in making sure our kids have access to high quality, healthy food at school, and that they all learn about cooking and making good food choices from an early age. He's my kind of guy.
We met a couple of Fridays ago on a snowy (can you believe it?) morning at Patriot Place in Foxboro, where his restaurant is located. It was early and he was working alone, putting time into the dish that he would be serving at the Chef's Collaborative fund raiser that we attended that Sunday. He is a very approachable guy, and immediately made me feel at home as we sat at a table nestled among his restaurant's outstanding wine collection.
Known as one of the North East region’s rising culinary stars, Richard is a self taught chef whose passion for food began when he was very young. Born in Guatemala, his professional journey began in Boston and eventually continued in South Beach Miami where he worked in some of South Florida’s finest restaurants. As a young man, he became a U.S. Marine and enlisted as a food service specialist.
Now as the Executive Chef of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro, he showcases his love of globally influenced cuisine, and is committed to using only the finest local sustainable ingredients, as well as sourcing the best imported products in the world to create a unique high-end dining experience for his guests. His Fall menu boasts dishes like Duck Schnitzel with roasted apples, local turnips, and baby rocket lettuce, and Crispy Atlantic Skate with hazelnut brown butter, capers, butternut squash, and braised greens….yum.
When we met, I started by asking him about his earliest food memories. He has many. Food and the ceremony surrounding its preparation was a big part of Richard's childhood years. He has numerous memories of time spent with his grandmother, who was of Guatemalan descent, and who cooked elaborate meals every day of the week. Because both of his parent's worked when he was young, he would spend time everyday after school with his grandmother, and be immersed in the sounds, scents, and activity of her daily cooking routine. It was with his grandmother that he had his first experiences with the traditional Guatemalan cuisine that later became such an important influence on his professional cooking. To this day, some of his favorite dishes are the ones he remembers eating with his grandmother, like tamales, or smashed plantains rolled in black beans and dusted with cinnamon sugar.
Richard can't remember wanting to be anything other than a cook, even from a very early age. Of course, back then, he had no idea what being a "chef" meant, but even so, cooking was something he seemed born to do. His first recollection of cooking for himself was when he was 5 or 6, and he asked his mom if he could make his own breakfast. She said yes, probably assuming that he would pour himself a bowl of cereal, but Richard had seen a recipe for a quiche that looked interesting, knew the dish included eggs, and so seemed appropriate for breakfast, and went about whipping up a quiche right then and there!
He went on to tell me how him Mom was a locavore way before the term was even coined, acquiring the family's produce almost exclusively from neighborhood farms when he was young. As a chef, Richard's first commitment is to purchasing quality ingredients, but works very hard to source these items locally, and from sustainable producers, mom is very proud, I'm sure.
As a dad, Richard works very hard to instill in his kids the same lessons that his family taught him at an early age, like the importance of supporting local farmers, and choosing whole, "real" food to eat rather than highly processed and pre-made stuff from the supermarket. Family trips to the farm are frequent, and allow his kids, who are still young (2, 4 and 10), to connect their food to a place and a producer, which Richard and his wife feel is important. They are already learning how their food choices impact not only their health, but the community in which they live, by actively supporting local farmers and fisherman. In fact, his 4 year old regularly inquires about the provenance of her food, asking "did these apples come from the farm, or the grocery store?" Looks to me like she's heading down the right path already.
His kids do like to help mom and dad in the kitchen, and when they do, Richard makes sure that their session always starts with a brief talk about safety. To him (and I agree), early kitchen lessons must include demonstrations of proper personal hygiene, food handling, stove safety, and knife skills. These lessons started even before the kids were old enough to work in a real kitchen, by playing in a fully outfitted "play" kitchen the he and his wife made for the girls. There they could don their own miniature aprons and hats, and work with dad in preparing a meal…too cute.
In addition to the work he does with his own kids, Richard is getting involved with a group of regional chefs that are interested in working at the State level to see how they may influence the quality of school lunch offerings for our kids. This is a group I would love to be a part of as it gets rolling.
I really enjoyed meeting Richard, and am looking forward to dinner at Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in just a few weeks. I encourage you all to support this great young chef and head out there yourselves soon. Tell him Oui, Chef sent you!
Cheers – Steve
This is a recipe from Richard's childhood that he has shared with us. I bet my kids will love it!
Guatemalan Lime Refresher
1 can Sprite or Sierra Mist
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 cups water
Add water, sugar, and honey to a bowl and stir for 30 sec., then pour into a blender.
Cut limes in half, squeeze juice from 1 1/2 limes into blender.
Put 1/2 of one of the squeezed limes into the blender, and blend until the skin from the lime is very finely chopped, about 1 minute.
Add the sprite to blender and mix for 1 minute
Serve in a glass over ice, or traditionally in a sandwich bag with straw!