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

Any local farms that you can name?
That’s what I’m working on, in trying to find the right niche. The problem that I have is there’s a lot of farms that can give you product, but they have limitations on the quantity they can give. You can’t put something on the menu and then be out unless you’re doing specials. I work with my vendors and make sure that they’re able to give me the quantities that I need.

What about butchering?
We have a butcher block in my kitchen. That’s something that I want to get to. I’m working on making sure that we’re able to bring the animal. Banquets, we do suckling pigs. We roast whole pigs for carving stations. I tend to be a little bit different when it comes to carving stations. Everybody wants a tenderloin or a prime rib. I’m like, come on guys, we can do better than that.

But not everybody does prime rib well…..So you want to get to the point—
I want to bring the entire animal and be able to butcher it and create different things with it.

Not even quarters.
The whole thing. Why not?! [laughs]

Currently, are you getting larger cuts or is it all prepacked?
Right now, we’re getting everything prepackaged. The butchering that we do is when we get the whole pigs, the whole chickens.

How soon do you see yourself making the change here?
Within the next year. I managed to get the right support. They’ve given me an additional sous chef, which gives me a little more time to be able to create these things I’m trying to do.

So you have the existing structure of the menu. Are there ways though, that you’ve been able to tweak the menu to your experience?
Yes. Churrasco is one of them. With the skirt steak, we’re using chimichuri, so I have a little bit of the Latin influence. Yuca fries. And we add pico de gallo. I do a Veru Cruz style red snapper. The corn fritters we do with crab meat and a chipotle aioli. That’s something I’ve always done. I really enjoy it and think it’s a perfect fit for this place.

You mentioned your mother was a prep cook. What did your dad do?
Cook. He used to cook. He jumped from place to place. He worked in a lot of different restaurants in D.C. He couldn’t take orders from management. It’s funny because he managed to work with me when I was a sous chef for a year. And I had to fire him. [Laughs] Imagine that.

How old were you at that point?
That was when I was eighteen. Then, when I was twenty-one, twenty-two—

Good thing you weren’t living at home.
Exactly.
At that point [around age twenty-two] I was the executive chef at The Georgetown Seafood Grill. I hired him again. And then he worked with me for about a year, a year and a half.

What was that like?
It’s different. Weird, man. [laughs] I’m like, you know what, at the end of the day, it’s like, dad, you’re just another cook here, man. Outside, you’re my father. Here, you’re my dad, but I have to treat you like everybody else. And you have to make sure you don’t give me reasons to give you a hard time. It’s tough though.

There still had to be some good post work beers with dad, though.
Of course. [laughs] You had to.
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