Welcome to the second installment of Picnic Basket Banter, a weekly series profiling Philadelphians who are participating in Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia. This series puts volunteers and attendees of Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia into the spotlight, asking a series of questions about their ideal picnic, favorite places in our amazing city and, of course, what they will be packing in their picnic baskets. Follow along here on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook as we highlight someone new each week to gather some ideas and learn more about your Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia dining companions!
Our second Picnic Basket Banter profiles Philly’s favorite chef, Jose Garces, the man behind the picnic baskets available for Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia via Garces Catering.
Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia: What is your favorite spot to picnic in Philadelphia?
Jose Garces: Ultimately, my favorite spot to picnic is in Wissahickon. My family and I hike Forbidden Drive and then we pick a spot near the Valley Green Inn, where there are wooden benches and picnic tables. The creek flows right off of this area. It’s also special because Beatriz and I got married at Valley Green Inn.
DEB PHL: What’s your perfect picnic beverage?
JG: Picnics demand a few things: beverages that will either stay cold or be palatable at a warmer temperature, as well as self-containment: no garnishes or fancy glassware. For those reasons, I love a big batch of sangria – either white or red – as well as two-ingredient cocktails such as whiskey sodas. Keep the whiskey in the freezer until you leave the house, so it stays cold in the drink as long as possible.
DEB PHL: Who would be the most interesting person (famous or historical figure) you’d like to share a picnic with–living or dead?
JG: I would love to picnic with Jacques Cousteau and learn about his adventures with marine life. I’ve often thought that if I wasn’t a chef I would work with the ocean in some way, perhaps as a marine biologist.
DEB PHL: Do you have a favorite picnic memory?
JG: One of my favorites would have to be picnicking in Central Park in New York City before a Widespread Panic concert back in the late nineties with a group of friends. We had Italian subs with lots of charcuterie that I had made, homemade kettle chips, and beer.
DEB PHL: What will be on your Dîner en Blanc menu? Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
JG: Something I’m offering on the Dîner en Blanc menu is an egg salad sandwich, served on grilled focaccia with mortadella, heirloom tomato and green olive from JG Domestic. Potted Duck with duck rillette, foie gras mousse and elderflower caramel will also be served, and is one of my favorites.
DEB PHL: What non-food items are always included in your picnic basket?
JG: A big sheet or blanket is a must, to create a comfortable place to sit. I prefer plastic cutlery to metal because it’s lighter, but I do try to pack it up and bring it home to wash and reuse, rather than throwing it away, because it’s better for the environment. Glassware is tricky; I like plastic cups because they’re simple, and can be stacked to take up less room in the basket. And extra napkins are crucial, especially if you’re picnicking with children – there will be spills!
DEB PHL: If you were planning the first Dîner en Blanc event in Philadelphia what would be your outdoor public space of choice be?
JG: I would have to say the Azalea garden, or the sculpture garden, both of which are located behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
DEB PHL: How long have you lived in the Philadelphia area?
JG: I have been here for about 10 years.
DEB PHL: What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
JG: There are so many! Obviously, I love our food scene: the restaurants; the people who work in them; the ambitious diners, the gifted producers, and purveyors that give us chefs so many fun products to work with. Overall, though, I think my favorite thing about Philadelphia is my life here. I met my wife here. We opened my first restaurant here. My children were born here. It feels very much like home to me. The city is full of happy memories.
DEB PHL: What is your favorite restaurant in Philadelphia?
JG: It would be impossible to choose just one, just as there is no one reason that I go out to eat. There are restaurants for every occasion, and I love that variety. Vetri comes to mind, and of course, there is a special place in my heart for my first restaurant, Amada.
DEB PHL: If you were to plan “the perfect day” of things to do for someone who was visiting Philadelphia for the first time, what would their day look like from start to finish?
JG: So much food. They’d have to start with breakfast at Reading Terminal Market, checking out the vendors, buying souvenirs and sampling the awesome Amish food at Dutch Eating Place. After that, you’re awfully close to Chinatown – why not take a stroll, explore the shops and maybe indulge in some dim sum? Then, north to a quick round of Philly-centric mini-golf at Franklin Square and up to Northern Liberties for craft beers at Standard Tap or North 3rd and maybe a frame or two at North Bowl. After that, hop the El train into Center City and switch to the Broad Street line, because we’re headed to the stadium for the Phillies game and some crab fries. Finish the night with cocktails at Village Whiskey – and a burger, if you’re still hungry!
Since opening his first restaurant Amada in 2005, Chef Jose Garces has emerged as an enormous talent and one of the nation’s most gifted chefs and restaurateurs. He is a 2009 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic” award and one of only eight chefs in the country to hold the coveted title of Iron Chef, appearing regularly on Iron Chef America. Chef Garces’ second cookbook, The Latin Road Home (Lake Isle Press, October 2012), will take readers on a tour of five Latin countries – Ecuaor, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and Peru – through food. It is a hotly anticipated follow-up to his stunning first cookbook, Latin Evolution (Lake Isle Press, Fall 2008).