Chef Chat Part 2: Restaurant Cinq's German Mosquera Talks Land, Art and Working a Grill
German Mosquera is a vegan, but he cooks some mean meat and seafood. And he has a way with vegetables as well.
Photo by Mai Pham
This is the second part of a two-part Chef Chat with German Mosquera of Restaurant Cinq. You can read Part 1 here.
EOW: How old are you?
GM: I turned 28 this year.
EOW: Tell me about your background.
GM: So, I was born in New York, grew up in New Orleans, and half of my high school life was in South Texas. It was always math- and science-based. When I graduated from high school, I was actually going to the Air Force academy because I was going to swim, but my grandmother passed away that summer, and I didn't go to training, so I ended up going to University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and I was swimming there and doing physics and engineering there for two and a half years. At that point, I was going through some artistic changes, touching back on some of my childhood art. So I did some painting for a while. I had an art show.
EOW: What kind of painting?
GM: I did surrealistic impressionist. Anyway, I left that phase. I was originally working as a lifeguard, but I needed another job, so I went downtown to the River Walk [in San Antonio] and ended up getting a job as a dishwasher.
EOW: For which restaurant?
GM: Dick's Last Resort.
EOW: Did you go from restaurant to restaurant, or did you just get a job at the first restaurant you walked into?
GM: That was the first place that I went to. We knew they were always hiring at the River Walk.
EOW: So you were a painter and a dishwasher at the same time.
GM: Yeah. And coming out of school. So, I washed dishes for eight or nine months.
An elegant setting: The dining room at Restaurant Cinq would be right at home in Paris.
Photo by Mai Pham
EOW: Okay, tell me the real scene around dishwashing.
GM: I just loved the organization of it. You have your racks and your machine, and you have your trash cans.
EOW: Was it one person or two people?
GM: It was two people. It was super-busy there. No one really cared what was going on. The kitchen manager was John Green, and he realized I was doing a really good job with dishes, and he's like, "I'm going to show you how to cook." Well, the system there is that you go from dishwasher to salad to fry and whatever, and you go all the way to the grill. But he took me all the way to the grill. I jumped everything.
EOW: So you went from dishwasher to grill.
GM: Yep. No experience. So, there was this guy nicknamed Animal, and he was working the grill and he was a rough character, but he was a great teacher.
EOW: How do you learn how to cook on a grill?
GM: Well, first of all, you have to have tongs, and make sure you don't get burned because it's hot as hell. And from there, understanding where the hot spots are on your grill. At that time, Jason Dady was pretty big in the city with The Lodge. The mother of my son, her parents lived near the Dominion Country Club, and they encouraged me to apply for a line-cook position. And when I got to the kitchen, it was a real professional one. There were culinary students and stagiaires, and me always wanting to learn, that's what made me what to go to culinary school.
EOW: So where did you go to culinary school?
GM: I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
EOW:What brought you to Houston?
GM: Ruggles Green. When I finished CIA, I went back to San Antonio. I worked at Cafe Paladar and Biga on the Banks -- it was Bruce Auden -- he was an English chef, and he was a James Beard Award winner. I did a lot of prepping for him. That's where I got all my knife skills. There was this one cook there who always had a timer when we did shrimp. To peel a five-pound box of shrimp and devein them, he could do it in three minutes and 45 seconds. The fastest I could do was six minutes and a half. He was always on me about time. That's where I got my timeliness and speed and efficiency and making sure everything's perfect. And at that point in time, my friend John -- he had worked with me at the country club -- he was starting up Ruggles Green in terms of the concept and development of the menu. He was in constant communication with me as far as "what do you think of this idea, what do you think about this recipe?" And then after two months, he said, "I need you to come to Houston."
EOW: So what was it that convinced you to move to Houston?
GM: It was Ruggles Green. Doing something different. Wanting to get green-certified and doing something completely different.
EOW: So you're vegan now. Do you miss the non-vegan lifestyle?
GM: No. At this point, when I get to cook with some of the best ingredients in the world, I see what is there, and I know that I'm more interested in the vegetables because of what they do for me -- not that I don't care for meat or that I think it's bad -- I love vegetables because I love to manipulate them and give you the best flavors and source them because I care.
EOW: When you are not eating at Cinq, what do you make? What do you eat?
GM: I do a lot of vegetable stuff.
EOW: Does it make it to the restaurant? Or it just basic, simple food, because I find that chefs tend to eat a lot simpler when they cook for themselves away from the restaurant.
GM: I guess you would see a lot of the vegetables in the whole sense, because it would be mostly roasted or raw.
EOW: Okay, if I came for dinner, and you're cooking for you, and I'm sharing, what would you be making?
GM: Right now, I love mushrooms, Brussels sprouts. I like to just roast them with the Louisiana shallots; it's so good. Salads, sometimes I'll make some soups. I'll bust out some pasta at the house, I'll use flax seeds instead of eggs.
German Mosquera hopes one day to own a piece of land on which he can grow produce for his restaurant kitchen.
Photo by Mai Pham
EOW: Do you have time to eat around town? And given your restrictions, where do you like to go?
GM: I like Cuchara. I like Ana, I know Ana [Beaven, the owner].
EOW: What do you eat there that's vegan?
GM: As a child, I never ate cactus, so I love their nopales there with the sauce. Her little tacos with the potatoes and spicy sauce, I love. I don't like Italian, but I go to Poscol, and I get the cannelloni stuffed with broccoli.
EOW: Okay, so it was just your one-year anniversary at La Colombe d'Or. What do you see in the future for what you're doing?
GM: The vision I have is to transition out even further and move away from the standard industrialized food settings. The menu right now is still a bit like tic-tac-toe. I have ideas and feelings to make it fluid, but there's still discrepancies because it's not a full, concise menu. I'm trying to find balance.
EOW: When you're developing a dish, because you're vegan, how do you go through the process of developing a non-vegan dish?
GM: There are two creative processes. When I'm creating the dishes that are standard industrialized dishes, I go back to my classical training, for things like the Chateaubriand. When I go into my dish, it starts with what's available right now with Knopp Branch Farm, Animal Farm or Plant It Forward for my vegetables. My meat is Black Hill Ranch. My fish, shrimp and scallops come from Frixos, and they all come from the Gulf. So I take all those things into consideration, and then really simplify it. I take the best, only the best, and then prepare it perfectly and present it simply. I know that's vague.
EOW: That is really abstract and vague. Are you writing notes? Are you throwing things together?
GM: I don't throw things together. I'm very mathematical. There are certain key points I like to hit when I write down my notes. I do a lot of note-taking, a lot of writing, and I do a lot of equations. I calculate things all the time to make sure that it's consistent and to make sure it's what I want. At that point, I want to derive some feelings.
EOW: Derive feelings?
GM: Yes. Whether I want to have fun with a plate, whether I'm trying to have humor with a plate, whether I'm trying to excite someone or surprise someone.
EOW: So, what's humorous?
GM: Humorous to me was the rabbit ham. I thought that was kind of funny.
EOW: What was surprising?
GM: Surprising to me was the octopus as the eggs and bacon.
EOW: So now, if you eat meat products, can you digest it?
GM: My stomach acts a little bit funny. It's kind of hard. My system doesn't get traumatized, but it just processes it faster.
EOW: Do you feel better as a vegan?
GM: Yeah, I feel lighter. I feel good. My skin's a lot better, my hair is good. But I think it's different for everybody. That's why I'm not a harsh vegan or a militant vegan who says, "You need to be vegan," because I think every body is different.
EOW: So you're only 28. Where do you see yourself five years from now?
GM: Five years from now, I really want to get some land. Whether I'm still here in Texas or somewhere else. Because I really want to provide a space for growing vegetables and maybe eventually putting a restaurant on there.
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