Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Juan Carlos Gonzalez of Bistro Alex in City Centre

Yesterday, we caught up with Chef Juan Carlos Gonzales of Bistro Alex and talked about his background and some of the standout dishes in his restaurant. Today we ask him about his involvement in the Toque 5 dinner series and his favorite foods.

EOW: This coming Monday, you're doing another Toque 5 dinner series at Voice Restaurant. Tell me, how did you get involved?

JCB: Taylor from My Table Magazine contacted me. They were looking for a chef from a smaller, newer restaurant to participate in this monthly tasting dinner where five chefs each create a dish, with proceeds going to charity.

EOW: Had you met any of the other Toque 5 chefs before then?

JCB: No, we'd never met. But it's been awesome. It's good to meet new colleagues, and you kind of have a better understanding of what other people are doing in Houston.

EOW: With you commuting to New Orleans, I'm surprised you have time for something like this. Is it work or fun for you?

JCB: It's work, but I'm enjoying it. We meet a week before the dinner in the host restaurant to plan for the upcoming dinner, see the kitchen, plan how we're going to make things and what the plating is like. We feed off of each other. The other Toque 5 are Greg Lowry from Voice, John Sheely from Mockingbird Bistro, Jason Chaney from The Barbed Rose, and Hugo and Ruben Ortega from Hugo's.

EOW: Great, now to the fun part. Let's talk about you. Since you still partly reside in New Orleans, do you have favorite restaurant there?

JCG: Bayona. I like the ambiance and the food. Susan Spicer stays true to New Orleans flavors. It's eclectic food, but it's straightforward good food with fresh ingredients. It's in an old building in the French quarter, and every room has different carpet and different decor.

EOW: What's your favorite food?

JCG: Pork. I like cochon de lait, which is a French term for suckling pig. In New Orleans, it's basically pork several different ways. But it's really hard to say, because I like so many different things. The medianoche is my favorite sandwich. It's a Puerto Rican version of a Cuban sandwich. We make it for the bar menu [at Bistro Bar] with roasted pork, pickled mustard, swiss cheese, and sliced tasso.

EOW: I notice you like to use tasso ham a lot. Is it easy to get?

JCG: Sure. You can buy it at Central Market or a Cajun market. My cook says they have it at Randall's.

EOW: What's your favorite thing to drink?

JCG: Miller and Jägermeister, straight up.

EOW: Burger or steak?

JCG: Burger.

EOW: Is there a place in town you go for burgers, or do you like to make your own?

JCG: I prefer my own.

EOW: Okay, so how do you make it?

JCG: You get the best meat possible, not just any meat, preferably ground sirloin. An 80/20 grind is good. Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, grilled to rare-medium rare, caramelized onions, portobello mushrooms, avocado, cayenne ketchup, pickled okra mayo, on a grilled brioche bun.

EOW: You're making me hungry!

JCG: (laughs)

EOW: Okay, so what's your favorite movie?

JCG: (deadpan) I like Ace Ventura. (laughs)

EOW: Favorite music?

JCG: I like salsa and reggae.

EOW: Do you salsa?

JCG: Yes, I do!

EOW: Did you take classes for it, or is it something that comes naturally?

JCG: It comes naturally. It's part of my heritage.

EOW: What's a fun and relatively unknown fact about you?

JCG: Hmmm (dramatic pause). I look like Andy Garcia.

EOW: That's right, you do!

JCG: Yes, people have told me that.

EOW: Final question. If you were to have a last meal, what would it be and who would you want to cook it?

JCG: That's a tough one! (thoughtful pause) It would be paella, and I'd want my dad to make it.

Check back tomorrow as we sample Gonzalez's duck waffle, along with some other menu items at Bistro Alex.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham