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

Was there already a basis for using every part of the animal at Red Owl, such as using the bones to make stock?
Those are the things that I want to make sure I plan out before we get to that point. It’s a process. Right now, we’re playing around with our own stocks. That’s something I started when I got here. I buy veal bones and chicken bones. I want to make sure we use all the bones. Now that we’re butchering our own chickens, we have what goes to the dish and then we’re making stock with the bones. It’s having respect for the ingredients.

Let’s go back to your background. It took you ten years to get citizenship?
Yes. Actually….

Were you able to get a visa to come here because of the civil war in El Salvador?
I came to the states illegally. My father had already put the papers through to get the green card but because I had gotten drafted a few times, they wanted to get me out. My mom and my dad were already here in the states waiting for everything to be ready for them to go to El Salvador and get us [him, his brother, and sister].

Did they come with documentation?
No, they came illegally as well. My dad put the papers through a restaurant he was working at [in the U.S]. Through work. That’s how he [eventually] got his visa. Actually, he filed for everybody at the same time. So my dad went [back] to El Salvador [his father went to the U.S. when he was five; his mother went when he was ten]. We got a visa for Mexico. Went to Mexico. From Mexico, went to Tiajuana. And then we managed to cross from there.

You only had a visa for Mexico?
Yes. Then from Mexico, we had to illegally cross the border into L.A.

You were 13 at the time you were drafted. How many times were you drafted by that point?

What’s going through your mind?
Honestly, growing up in that environment, my mind was set that I was going to go to military school. I wanted to become an officer. That was gonna be my life.

Then I got drafted. When you get drafted, you are not going to go to military school [you can read about child soldiers of the civil war here and here]. They just basically take you to training. My uncle was in the military. I knew what military life was like. I had the notion of wanting to become an officer.

Give me some background on the civil war.
The civil war was all about the guerillas and the military. Government versus people that were poor, fighting for their rights. I grew up in the middle of it. I saw dead people all over the place. I saw uncomfortable situations all over the place.

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