I grew up on a ranch in Guatemala, and the one thing that is etched in my memory is the scene of my grandmother, aunts and mother preparing a meal in the kitchen. It was an all-day affair, for we were a giant family and when breakfast ended all the women in the family would go off to the market to buy the freshest produce, meat and fish for lunch and dinner. They did not have much to spend, but la comida was always full of love and flavor.
I remember my mother plucking fresh chickens in the yard. She would cut up tons of vegetables and then toss everything in a giant pot. It would simmer just long enough to bring out the most mouthwatering flavors. She was truly an amazing chef, although she would never consider herself one. She taught me everything I know. I watched closely the way she would add some of this and not too much of that. She gave me a love for good, healthy, hearty food just like the kind I prepare today.
When I came to this country, I worked as a sous chef at some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, including the original Dock Street, the four-star restaurant, The Striped Bass and the gourmet Chinese restaurant, Susanna Foo. I had the opportunity to work under the excellent chefs who cooked there, as well as Phillippe Chin and Keong Bahn, when I worked at Phillippe.
After fine-tuning my skills, I was ready to go off on my own in 1999 and became the head chef at The Black Sheep near Rittenhouse Square. Although Irish pub cuisine was new to me, I decided to mix what I knew well with traditional pub grub recipes. On opening, we served elegant comfort food that received rave reviews, and later several awards from Philadelphia magazine’s “Best Of” series, among others.
What I love about being a chef is that there is always something new and different to learn. And after I married my wife, Chef Kim Katz Alvarez, and we had our beautiful children, Emma and Alejandro, we moved to the suburbs and I was eager to see what the Main Line had to offer. I was not disappointed.
In 2004, we bought the Delaware Market House in Gladwyne. This 100-year-old establishment has a wonderful history, and Kim and I knew we could bring to it our experience as award-winning Philadelphia chefs and turn it into one of the most unique gourmet markets and catering companies in the region.
The goal for me now is to bring my childhood memories to life for my kids and my customers. So every day I prepare some of the traditional dishes that my mother always made: fresh salsa and guacamole, homemade chips, quesadillas, burritos, taquitos, Platos, and other traditional Guatemalan fare.
I also make some of the dishes I became famous for at The Black Sheep Pub. Coupling my skills as a chef with my cultural and life experiences gives me great pleasure and pride, and I hope that everyone I cook for thoroughly enjoys their food, and leaves the table with a renewed zest for all that life has to offer.