A Chef’s Journey: From El Salvador To Philadelphia With Jorge Chicas of Red Owl Tavern

How long would that 20 course menu run?
Two to three hours.

How were the wine pairings done?
They wouldn’t pair dish and wine. They would basically do one wine for two or three courses and then change it.

That’s interesting because you rarely hear of tasting menus that long. It reminds me of the annual La Panarda at Le Virtù where you get 40 courses, arranged in stanzas. Each 4-6 course stanza has its own wine pairing. With unlimited wine—they keep refilling—you’re not only examining that wine through every dish, you’re also drinking a lot of wine.
That’s very interesting. I’ve had dinner at The French Laundry—several times, too. Every time we went, we had it [the dinner] with wine. I remember the first time. After the fourth course, we were trashed already.

How many courses did you go through?
I remember getting there around 7pm. We did a tour with Thomas Keller and then we sat down at maybe 8pm. We were there till one o’clock in the morning. It was the entire night. He was just sending dishes after dishes after dishes. And they were trying to pair everything too. It’s like….that was a killer.

At Saam, it was different though. Every course, it’s one bite. The most, two. It’s more about a tasting menu. A more unique experience. I think everybody that went and ate there really enjoyed it.

Where did you go from there?
After we opened the hotel, I was offered to become the executive chef there. At that point, the plan was to open different SLS’s all over the U.S. But the economy tanked—that was around 2008/2009. I was the executive chef of the entire hotel in Beverly Hills. I was there four years.

Where do you live when you’re out there by the way? An executive chef for a successful hotel chain has to be doing pretty well, but that’s still Beverly Hills.
I managed to get a small place in Hollywood. It was close by, which is a good thing because traffic is horrendous over there. It’s a completely different world. What people expect and want is different. I worked in D.C. for a long time and then I went to the West Coast. It was day and night to me. I loved the weather, the area. I didn’t really care about, you know, the people on the West Coast—it’s different. It’s a different culture. People are a lot different here.

And we’re not as mean as we’re made out to be. And we’re not like New York.
There you go [laughs].

What ended up happening there?
They were getting ready to open SLS in Miami, South Beach. They wanted me to make the move to Miami. At that point, my son and my wife were living with me in L.A. I always made the move for work and at that part of my life, I was like, I can’t.

When did you get married?
I got married when I was young. If I go back….I got married my first time [laughs] when I was seventeen. I was married for eleven years, divorced, and got married again. I was married for three years, then divorced. Now, I’m married for my third time. First wife, we have four kids. Girl, boy, girl, girl. Second marriage, we didn’t have any kids. My third marriage, we have a boy. He’s a year and a half.

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