Chef Chat, Part 2: Sylvia Casares of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

We continue our chat with Sylvia Casares of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, who dispenses advice to those daydreaming of their own restaurants and tells us how to develop a winning recipe.

EOW: To those of us dreaming of opening our own restaurant, what words of advice can you give?

Casares: Start little or buy one thing that has some promise. Definitely, don't go start a big one without experience; you will get eaten alive. It's a very complex business. Start little. Start simple. Be prepared to work very hard. Be prepared to not make any income. Don't try to live off of it for a year because it's going to take a while to produce income. And once you get it running, make sure that you talk to your customers to see what they like so that you change your menu as needed.

EOW: How should someone go about developing a recipe that will make him/her famous?

Casares: I tell you what I do: I study cookbooks. I read through as many cookbooks as I can. I try to travel to the place where that dish is from and eat it as many times as possible and take notes. Through this process, I educate my palate as much as possible. Finally, from studying the cookbooks and tasting the flavors, I start to develop my own recipes with flavors that I like. So in short, I just do a lot of work. There's a lot of testing, note taking, and evaluation. Then when I've narrowed it down to a few recipes, that's when I'll start taste paneling them. This way I can make sure that my recipes are full flavored.

EOW: Your Westheimer location is full of tea sets. Tell me more about that.

Casares: The original was a gift from an employee that had traveled to Mexico. So I put it on display behind the cashier and the customers would admire the tea set. So the next time I went to Mexico I brought a couple sets home with me. The collection just grew from there. Customers would bring me sets, as well as family members and employees. I don't even have space with them anymore. Last time I counted there was 106 sets. I personally own five regular tea sets. One of my favorite tea sets is the 75-year-old miniature set that I keep in a glass case behind the register. I bought it from an antique store in Mexico, and the owner of the shop said that the set was hers and she had had it for 75 years.

EOW: Tell me about your colorful poblano kitchen at this [the Woodway] location.

Casares: It's the focal point of this restaurant. I just love it and really don't ever get tired of looking at it. I think it has a lot of warmth to the restaurant; otherwise it's just a room. I think it really gives off the feeling of a home. Actually a funny story is even though the kitchen is not a functioning kitchen, when we had a city inspector come out to do his inspection, he thought it was a real kitchen and was playing around with the gas knobs wondering why the stoves did not work.

Tomorrow we'll showcase a couple of dishes you have to try when visiting Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen.

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