Chef Rogelio Garcia: “Top Chef, Spruce, & Beyond” | Talks at Google

Chef Rogelio Garcia: “Top Chef, Spruce, & Beyond” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] ROGELIO GARCIA: Thank you
guys for having me today. Yeah, so I’ve always– I was born in Mexico City. And then we kind of
migrated to Los Angeles when I was very young, all
the way up to high school. And then I came to
northern California. That’s how I kind of found the
cooking part of what I do now. It’s been a long
ride, I would say. I think being a chef
in San Francisco, it’s very rewarding
at the end of the day. And I think that being
able to grow up in Napa, I was very humbled to grow
with a lot of good wine, a lot of great chefs, a
lot of great restaurants, and kind of mimic
to hopefully one day operate a restaurant of my own. But now I’m the chef at that
restaurant called Spruce here in San Francisco. Yeah, so. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: So thank you. So tell us a little bit
more about your story. How do you start your
career as a chef? ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah,
so it all started just giving light to being
in northern California. I didn’t know anything
about cooking per se prior to coming to
northern California. I actually wanted
to do two things when I was in high school. I wanted to either join
the Army or be an actor. Like those were the two
things that I really, really wanted to do
right after high school. And then I had an aunt
that lived in Yountville, and my mother’s
like, you know, we’re going to leave Los Angeles. We’re going to come to
northern California, and we’re going to
find a new home. I don’t know anything about
San Francisco or anything like that. I think at the time,
I was 15 when I came. And my mother, she was a
single mother with three kids. So I always had a struggle
with rent and stuff like that, so I was like,
I need to get a job. You know, I really
want to help her out. I want to help with the
rent and things like that. So my aunt that
invited us to come live in northern
California, they’ve always worked in restaurants
for like 20 years. So I asked them, hey, you know,
I really want to get a job. Is there a possibility
to maybe get a part time at a restaurant? So I did, and that kind of
just kind of blew my mind. And I was like, as soon as
I stepped in the kitchen, just the smells, the whole kind
of brotherhood in a restaurant. Being able to express
yourself through food and through experiences,
I would say. Kind of just wanted me– I wanted to do
that for a living. That’s what I wanted
to call my career. And I remember the
lingering thought of joining the Army
was still there, right after I was going to graduate. So I talked to– I became friends
with one of my chefs that gave me my first job. And I asked him. I was like, hey, I really
want to join the Army, but I’m not sure
what route to take. I don’t know if I should go to
the Army or continue cooking. And he said– I always remember these words. He was like, the worst thing
you can do in a kitchen is you can break a plate. And the worst thing that
can happen in the Army is you get shot, and
you can get killed. [LAUGHTER] So I was like, OK,
well, that’s it. I’m going to be a chef. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
[INAUDIBLE] chef, right? ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. So that’s it, and that’s
how it kind of all began. I mean I think at that
point, you definitely had to work hard. You definitely have to read
a lot of books and cookbooks. I mean I was never like
a reader in high school, but as soon as I
opened a cookbook or just getting inspired through
chefs through their restaurants or their recipes, I
think that’s going to make me to buy more books
and kind of inspire myself to become a better
chef every day. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: And if
I understand correctly, you wanted to go
to culinary school, but you actually ended
up not going to school. ROGELIO GARCIA: I did. I did. I researched it a lot. I looked at a school in Florida. At that time, I mean Hyde Park– the CIA– it’s like the biggest
school, I think until now. So you’re able to stay in the
campus and do the whole thing. But I was like,
you know, I don’t think I’m able to afford that. And then I went to a
local cooking school in– right in the middle of
St. Helena and Calistoga. I walked in, and
I wanted to join. But I couldn’t afford it. And I had two kids
when I was very young, so I was like,
you know, I’m just going to choose a
chef who I admire, who is doing what I
want to do one day. And I’m just going to work
for them and do that instead. So yeah, that was
how it started. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Yeah. Yeah, so how was the
experience of your first job? Like, how do you– getting to
the restaurant, what restaurant was it? ROGELIO GARCIA: The
first job I had, it was an Italian
restaurant that did like country Italian food. And it was very rustic. And as soon as you walk
in, people are rushing. They’re in and out, the
whole brigade of discipline. Everything, I was just like,
this is what I want to do. And trying to go to
high school and run down to Yountville and work
was kind of a challenge, because I was
trying to graduate, but I was trying to make money
with my job five days a week. And just trying to balance that
was a bit difficult at times. I would be an hour late to
high school, or because I had to stay late
the night before, because I was a dishwasher. So I couldn’t leave until
like 1:00 or 2:00 AM. So that cycle was just like– I was like, oh, wow, this
is like being a grown up. This is like trying to
juggle both school and a job at the same time. So– but then when I graduated
high school, I took it on full. And I really researched what I
want to do and the kind of food that I wanted to do. And at that time, there was
a lot of French restaurants and Italian restaurants. So there was nothing– I would say out of
that, like you never saw a fine dining Mexican
restaurant or a fine dining– you saw Japanese, but not
anything of any smaller country I would say. So just thinking of
my roots and the food that I grew up with, the food
that my mother cooked when I was young, always,
in the back of my mind, I was like, I want to do
Mexican food in the future. But I want to do it with a fine
dining kind of touch and kind of give a voice to Latin
America of the food that we do, that it’s not just
burritos and tacos. There’s a lot of history
in Latin America from all over the world. And I think if we’re
able to bring it up to Northern California, it
would be a great restaurant. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Sounds good. So I know you worked at a
very good French restaurant. Do you want to share
your story about– ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. You know, I worked for Thomas,
Thomas Keller in Yountville. I mean it was kind of a given. You kind of hear the stories
of Thomas and his restaurant and how successful he is. And just working for him taught
me a lot of different things, not just cooking, but
I think as the way you carry yourself
as a businessman. And then I think also as
well as just discipline, not just in the kitchen, but
eating right, exercising, having a healthy lifestyle. I think all that kind of
played into being a chef, because being in a
restaurant is very demanding. I always look at
it like a sport. It’s very demanding,
and you miss a lot of things with like
family gatherings, holidays, stuff like that. So you know, being in that
kitchen really tests me in a way where, is this
what I really want to do, or should I just walk away now? And so I kept going,
and eventually, after cooking in Napa and
Napa Valley for 15 years, then I decided to go
on to San Francisco and search a bigger city
instead of Napa Valley. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Wow. And what do you think
that make you stand out, out of the crowd? Like you were making your
career and pushing and pushing, and somehow you get
these opportunities to work at great restaurants. Like, what makes the
difference between Rogelio and other chefs? ROGELIO GARCIA: I think
number one is hard work. I think in whatever you do, I
always tell the younger cooks or if anybody always asks
for advice, I would say, whatever you choose to do, you
just got to put the work in. And you’ve really got
to do your homework. It’s not just in the
restaurant but outside. You know, you’ve got to really
think if you’re a doctor, if you’re a lawyer
or a chef, you’ve really got to think you have to
go home and dream about food. And that’s something
you can’t really– you can somebody how to
cook and how to be a chef and how to make a recipe. But to teach somebody how to
be passionate about what they do and come back and try
to get better every day, that’s hard to find. And that has to be
something within you that kind of comes out. And I think just
being in Napa Valley, I think I’m very humbled
that it kind of gave me a step up, because
it was hard not to find a good restaurant
in Napa or good wineries or a great chef that would kind
of take you under your wing and show you the
way they did it. And I’ve been very
fortunate, through my career, to work with chefs, but also
keep in contact with them, and always be able to
reach back and say, hey, this is at the
point in my career. What do you think? And they always give me
the best advice they can, because they’ve been
there, and they’ve done it. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Yeah, and I think that’s an important part
of growing the mentorship. You had great
mentors, apparently. ROGELIO GARCIA: Exactly. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: And how
did the mentorship help you to develop your career? How do you find the mentors? ROGELIO GARCIA: Well. I think it doesn’t
need to be like a– for me, it doesn’t need to be
like a star chef, I would say. It could be just a friend
that gives you great advice or might not have
a lot of accolades. But definitely, I look into
the people that do have them, and I always touch back
and ask the questions, because they’ve been there. It’s kind of like a parent,
but in that whatever industry you’re in. And you always tap back
and say, hey, this and this is where I’m at. This is kind of
what I want to do. What do you think? Is this a good idea? And they always try
to give you the best advice, because they’ve been
there, and they’ve done it. But the whole industry
is kind of shifting now. It’s very different than
when I started cooking. And so you have
to kind of adapt. And cooking always
evolves, you know? It’s always evolving. It’s always changing. So you kind of just
adapt to the situation, especially in San Francisco,
because San Francisco, it’s the mecca of America. You know, it’s
become neck and neck with New York of just
cooking and finding great food and
great restaurants, but it’s also become
very expensive to operate a restaurant or
just even if it’s any business in San Francisco,
it’s very, very expensive to just operate it and just
to get it off the ground. It’s super tremendous to
just get off the ground, and to continue it, it’s
very difficult as well. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Yeah. I mean who do you consider
your best mentor so far? ROGELIO GARCIA: I would
say Traci Des Jardins. You know, she’s a female chef. She was one of the
first female chefs to kind of make her
name in San Francisco. And just being a
female and a chef in the ’90s was very
difficult. And I think that I see kind of
like a mother figure in her. And I would say just I kind of
see what my mother went through and how difficult she
had as well in America. And she’s half French
and half Mexican, so she kind of understands
like the whole Latin America. And her favorite
food is Mexican, so I think that I always
respect her for advice. And she’s helped a lot of
people, a lot of younger chefs and a lot of people
who are trying to get the restaurants
off the ground or just in general,
just with advice. So I would say her probably. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Wow. ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
That’s very powerful. And talking about a little
bit more of mundane things, how’s your day to day life? How’s the life of a chef? ROGELIO GARCIA: Well, I
mean, the day to day life, kind of like I said, you
miss a lot of holidays a lot of important days,
stuff like that. But you’re trying
to find that balance of taking care of the restaurant
and taking care of your– I call them the family
at work, because you need to have a strong team
to operate a restaurant. And it’s always checking
in with your team, because they themselves– just being a cook
in San Francisco and being a cook at a
high end restaurant, I understand the struggles
that they go through that I went through the
struggles as a cook. You know, they don’t
make a lot of money. They’re at minimum wage. Some are coming from
an hour and a half away to come work
at Spruce or for me. So I’m very humbled
to have that. So I always try to give
back in any way that I can, whether advice or if I
can help them in anything. And it can be as simple as
like, hey, you know, my car broke down. You know, I need an Uber. So we’ll call an Uber
either here or there. And it’s just trying to
find that balance from work to your personal life. You know, I have two kids. So my son started
high school this year. The other one, he’s got one
more year in middle school, and then he’s off
to high school. so trying to find that balance
of being in their life, and then trying to
operate a restaurant, it’s trying to just find that. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Yeah, [INAUDIBLE].. ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
You know, it’s awesome that they’re
here visiting us as well. ROGELIO GARCIA: They’re here. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Your
family is supporting you. ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
And I’m impressed that your family is here, so
I think they look up to you. I think you’re a
role model for them, or how do you see yourself
within your family? ROGELIO GARCIA:
Well, I mean yeah. I mean I think I remember one
day that my son asked me– he had a report he had
to do, the oldest one. I think he had to be like in
kindergarten, his first year. And he asked me, hey, we have
to do this project of what he wanted to when he grew up. And he was like, I
want to be a chef. And I was like, I don’t know
if you really want to do that. You might want to
double think that. But it goes back
to the same thing. Like, whatever you do, you
had to put the work in. And a lot of the times,
people might not notice it. But it does come out in the end. And also surrounding
yourself with people who want the same thing
that you want. That’s another
thing, because you have to have people around
you that they either think the same
way you do or even to bring something to the
table that you might not have thought about in whatever
industry you choose to be in. So I think that’s important. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: So in
the specific in cooking, if you were able
to go back in time, or you meet the Rogelio that is
way younger than you starting their career, what advice
would you give them? ROGELIO GARCIA: Ooh,
that’s a good one. [LAUGHS] I would probably
say, be a little more patient, I would say. In a restaurant,
being patient is not– you don’t really
have that luxury. You know, people come in. They want what they want. We work against the
clock all the time. So in your mind, when you
grew up in a restaurant, you become impatient. That’s something
that you just are, because you’re always
rushing against the clock. So I would say maybe be
a little more patient. I think I would give that
to myself as a younger self. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: All right. And talking about
your food, a lot of questions about your food. What’s your favorite dish? ROGELIO GARCIA: You know, the
menu at Spruce changes often, and I think we really try
to hit a couple points. It’s just being creative. I think that’s a big thing,
because it fulfills you as a chef. You’re able to express
yourself with whatever you see at the markets
or whatever’s in season. I think that’s the number one. But I think it also
has to taste great. You know, it has to taste good. But I think just being– I wouldn’t say not
necessarily a dish. And I think as I get older,
I tap back into my roots. And I would say,
instead of a dish, I would say it’s more
cooking Mexican food and researching
that, because I feel like when I grew
up in the industry, I cooked a lot of
Italian and French. And I kind of
neglected my roots, because I didn’t have any
inspiration to go back to. But now there’s
more authors that are writing Mexican
cookbooks and more chefs that are kind of
rising that are Latin. I think that I go back,
and I’m like, oh, wow, these are things that I
want to do in the future. So instead of a dish, I
would say maybe a cuisine. I would say Mexican food
or just Latin America. I mean Peru has a lot
of good food as well. There’s a lot of discipline
in the food as well, so. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
So in general, what do you want to
communicate with your food? Whenever you’re
making a dish, what do you want to share
to the people who are going to be eating that dish? ROGELIO GARCIA: I think
it’s just great ingredients, and they’re not manipulated,
I would say, in a lot of ways. And it’s just good
food, and it’s creative. And it’s seasonal. It’s local. You know, and it’s based on
supporting local farmers. And I think farmers
or just agriculture is going through a big
change as well, because it’s hard to find labor or people
that want to do agriculture like they wanted to do it
back in like 15, 20 years ago. Or why would you want
to work in a field, when you can work in an office,
Monday through Friday? So I think agriculture,
it’s a huge thing. And I go to the farms,
and we visit them, and people make
cheese or people who dries their own meats,
people that are just local or grow beautiful apples or
stone fruits or tomatoes. And you can see
that nobody wants to do that, that
kind of work anymore. So it’s very difficult for them. So I think being able to
highlight what they do, and that’s how they feed their
families through what we get at the restaurant, and be able
to highlight that and put it on a plate, it’s
huge, I would say. So I always try to get
back and give thanks to the people who actually
grow the tomatoes, who are in the fields for 12 hours
in the 100-degree weather and are also working
very, very hard. So I think that’s kind of what
we try to bring to the table. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
That is awesome. Yeah. And in that realm, what
are your viewpoints in terms of sustainable
food, fair trade? Those are topics that
are, nowadays, very present here in San Francisco. ROGELIO GARCIA: It is. Yeah, and also just
eating healthy. I think that’s another thing. I think that people
don’t realize that whatever you
consume in your body also makes you think that way. I think that I, myself,
as I keep getting older, I try to eat better. And I think that we see it
in the restaurant, where people want to eat better. And the things
that are healthier is what sometimes sell
a little bit more. So we try to adjust the menu to
be a little healthier as well. But also, I mean we use a
lot of local ingredients. And we use a lot
of local purveyors. And it’s also when you get,
for example, like strawberries, and they’re at their peak,
I mean they’re the sweetest. They’re the healthiest. When you get pumpkins
in the winter, they’re the sweetest and
the healthiest as well. There are more nutrients. So if you cook with
the seasons, you’re already there or halfway there. And I think that’s a big thing
in San Francisco as well. People want to
eat healthier now. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Yeah. Right, awesome. And now about your
awards or working for Michelin
starred restaurants, what does it mean for you to
work for a Michelin starred restaurant? ROGELIO GARCIA: I think it
was always a goal for me to– I mean it’s a goal for every
chef to have a star, right? But I think you have a
responsibility, I think, as well. So it comes with a
lot of responsibility, and that responsibility
is for the people who walk in the door,
that you give them, you know, the best food you
can, the wine, the service, the whole atmosphere,
and that they leave happy when they leave the restaurant. And that’s a big responsibility,
because in restaurants, there’s so many things and so many
factors that can happen, that can go wrong. And so to be able to have
it in a climate like today, it’s very humbling, but it’s
also a big responsibility. So we try to instill
that in everybody. I don’t think it’s just myself. I mean I do lead
the team, but if I didn’t have a strong
team behind me and younger cooks who want to
better themselves in the future and be restaurant owners
or be chefs one day, and then pushing themselves
pushes everything forward. So I think a lot
of things has to be done to the people at the
bottom as well, or, like I said, like the farmers. I think that’s a big thing. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: How can
we know more about the work that you’ve been doing? I mean, of course,
we can go to Spruce, but do you have
cookbooks or blogs? Or is there any way that
we can follow the stuff that you’re working on? ROGELIO GARCIA: I
have my Instagram, and you can find
me on Instagram. It’s ChefRogelioGarcia. But I think the core
comes from the restaurant. You know, number one is
being able to inspire the people in the
restaurant and being able to have them in a place
where they know there is hope, and it’ll get better
for them in the future as either becoming a chef
or a restaurant owner. But I think as far
as the outside, I think that I’m hopefully
trying to go to San Quentin to kind of feed
some of the inmates in the fall or the winter,
hopefully by the holidays. And it’s kind of an
interesting story, because there’s a restaurant
in San Francisco who did it. And I kind of got
inspired through that. And just to hear
their stories or just to have them have a little
bit of hope, I would say, that’s one thing. And also just being able
to maybe talk to schools, as we’ve done. I’ve done classes where
there’s kids involved, and we do either
like a baking class or how to grow your
own vegetables, because that’s another thing. When I was in elementary
school and middle school, schools didn’t offer
the healthiest foods when we were in school. And I think now
people are starting to realize that when you start
eating healthy at that age, it really helps
you in the future. So in schools, I see
that they’re showing kids how to grow their own
vegetables, tomatoes, and how to prepare them from
when they’re a seed all the way to when you start
eating a tomato. So I think that’s a kind of
neat thing that’s happening now. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Wow, well, thank you for doing all the paying
forward, because– ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah, I mean
I wish I could do more, but. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: What
else would you like to do? ROGELIO GARCIA: I
mean I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean I think
maybe more schools. I do have a friend who’s
very into giving back. He’s in the east coast, and
he works with a lot of schools and goes and talks to schools
about how to implement a better system of healthy eating. And he does it all
through New York City. But I have kids, so I
think it’s important for me that they eat
healthy or healthier. I think that would
be a subject that I would love to kind of tap more
into and do more, but one day. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: One day. ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Well, to wrap up, I guess my final
question would be, do you think you’re living
the so-called American dream? ROGELIO GARCIA: Well, it all
depends on what that means, I would say. You know, is it be the
leader of your craft? Is it to own a restaurant? Is it to be a chef,
and that’s it? I don’t know. I mean, that’s a good question. Then you go into the
whole politics thing. Is it really all
that kind of stuff? But I mean, I would say, you
know, everything is evolving. And there’s more
light being shed on how the industry used
to be and how it should be. And as far as like American
dream, I mean in a way, yes, and in a way, no. I think there’s still a
lot of work to be done. So I think that, yes
and no, I would say. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Still
a work in progress. ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah, exactly. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Well, thank
you so much for coming today. I really appreciate it. I had the opportunity to try
your food, and it’s amazing. I’ll recommend it highly. ROGELIO GARCIA: Thank you. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Now we’re
going to move on to Q&A. AUDIENCE: I have a question. Can you share with us one of
the toughest days that you had, and how did you overcome it? ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. Let me see. I would say the first time– when I started cooking,
I always worked in very casual restaurants. So there was nothing
like Uber fine dining. And I remember that I took a
job, where I could be there an hour and a half away. So I lived in Napa, and I went
all the way to Healdsburg. And I had to be like, probably
like, I would say 21, 22. And the chef there, he’s still
a very good friend of mine. And he’s still very talented. And he had a restaurant
that was only tasting menu, so it was the first time
that I got exposed to, what is really fine dining? And it was probably
like 12, 13 years ago. And I remember that I had to
work the station that I never worked before. And oh, man, I had a
rough day that day. I couldn’t get the fish right. I was overcooking it, you know. And I remember that
I had to come back the next day like
around 7:00 or 8:00. So I had to drive back. I think I left like
around 1:00 AM. Drive back to my house. I got there like around
2:30, probably slept like three, four hours,
and then drive another hour and a half to the restaurant. But the whole night, I was
just dwelling on how bad the service went. Like you take that home. And then I had to
come back the next day and prove that I could do it. And the next day
was better, but I think that, just that, is
something that I always try to tell younger cooks
or anybody, if it ever goes that bad, go back
home, think about it, and come back stronger the next
day, because it’s important. That’s kind of like
back pains or like you being able to grow in
whatever craft you’re in. To be able to have those
growths, it’s important. So I would say that was
one of my worst days working in kitchens. AUDIENCE: First off, thanks
for joining us today, for visiting us. You spoke of mentoring. I have two questions. You spoke of mentoring. Are you currently
mentoring anyone right now? And the second
question would be, you spoke earlier in
your career about trying to balance family and work
or the work family and home family. With success, have you
found it easier to do that or harder to do that? ROGELIO GARCIA: As far
as mentoring, yeah, I mean I have friends who– I mean I became a chef
when I was 26 as a– when I became head chef at 26. So I’m 33 now, so all
the way through that, I had sous chefs
that worked under me. And to this day, we
still kind of keep in touch with some of them. And some of them
already became chefs. Some of them are still
being sous chefs. But they always kind
of reach back and say, hey, what do you think of that? So yeah, I mean as far as
mentoring, even the team I have now, it’s always, you
know, talking to them and getting to know them,
not just in the restaurant, but I think getting
to know them outside, because if they have
kids, if they have family, if they’re going
through struggles– maybe somebody passed away. I mean we had, in the kitchen
alone, the holidays, there was three deaths in the kitchen. Not in the kitchen, but
like somebody’s grandma died or somebody’s uncle,
somebody in an accident. So just me being there
for them and, you know, looking them in the face and
saying, hey, are you OK today? Are you able to work? What’s going on in your life? I’m just checking in. I think that means
a lot, because it means that you have
somebody who not only cares for you professionally,
but also personally. And I think that that’s
a big thing, especially for the young generation,
because they might not have anybody to talk to but me. So I think that’s one. And then as far as like
finding the balance, I mean I think it gets
harder as I keep going. You know, but that’s
life, I think. I mean I could– would I want it to be
better at sometimes? Yes. I mean I wish I could
split myself in two and be at every event
that my son has, or I wish I could be there
more with their homework. I wish I can be– even in my relationship, I
wish I could be there more. But that’s something
that I’ve always kind of had a struggle with. But any chef I know always
has that struggle, or anybody who has a craft who are
just fully committed, it’s that struggle that
they always go through. So yeah, it’s always
finding that balance. And then I always think
about when to say, I’m going to have
the restaurant wait, and then I’m going to spend
a couple hours or time or days with my family. So at some point, you’ve
got to know how to say, OK, I’m going to hold on to this
and focus 100% on my family. AUDIENCE: Hey. How’s the Top Chef
experience been for you? Like it’s put you out in
front of a lot more people. Has that been a
positive thing for you? ROGELIO GARCIA: It does, yeah. I mean I think that’s
another family, I would say. I think that we all kind of
stay very, very connected and we bounce back
ideas, you know. And I think that it’s been
something that I always kind of wanted to do in the
back of my mind, but I’ve never, you know, I didn’t research it. It kind of became them
calling me and that kind of back and forth. I did want to do it in the
future, but it kind of just happened. And then doing it
was very, I would say, rewarding and
very inspiring to the young generation as well. So then just the chefs
that I competed against, I didn’t know any of
them prior to that. And then we were locked into
this this house with no cell phones, and you couldn’t
reach anybody outside. And after 60 days of doing
that with no communication outside of the world, we
became like the best friends, you know? Because we cry together, we ate
together, we smiled together. So just through the
hardships of everything, we just became
really good friends. And we used to joke
around, because we didn’t have any communication outside
of whatever was happening there, we always joked around
and tell the producers like, hey, is Donald Trump
still president? So we would joke around. So yeah, that was a joke
that we always talked about. But yeah, I mean, that
was the whole experience. Kind of, yeah. AUDIENCE: Hi, thanks for coming. You talked about making
Latin food high end. Oftentimes, we think of
Latin food [SPANISH].. What was the biggest
challenge you face when trying to making it high end? ROGELIO GARCIA: I think
the biggest challenge is– it’s kind of what you say– is trying to overthink it. I think that Mexican
food, it’s very, you know, street food
is very comforting food. There is ways to do it, it’s
just got to be done very well. But I think the biggest
challenge is not to do it too overwhelming
where it’s now you don’t really know that
it’s Mexican or not, I think. And I’m not talking about
doing things in like test tubes or stuff like that. Like still making
it good, but it’s still having the core
to still be Latin. And people are always
going to, they’re always going to judge and say it’s
not, you know, Mexican enough, or it’s too out there. But I think it really depends
on your vision of what you want to do, I think, and how
I look through my lens of my experiences
through cooking, how I would look at Mexican
food or Latin cuisine, and how I want to kind
of approach it, I think. So just to kind
of circle back, I think it’s just to not
overdo it too much. Yeah. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Your kids must have the best lunches at school. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: I guess building
a little bit on that, how do you seek and process
criticism and feedback, especially given people
have varied tastes and a lot of people have
different preferences? ROGELIO GARCIA: Well,
that’s something that you kind of learn to kind
of take with a grain of salt. I think that criticism, I
mean, I’ve dealt with it for– I mean, I’ve been doing
this for almost 17 years, which I just think it’s
like where’d the time go? So through all that time,
it’s always been criticism. But I think if you’re able
to take that criticism and not look at it
in a negative way, but look at it as
maybe a growth, right, and, you know, some
people might be right, some people might be wrong, but
if you really think about it and analyze it and say,
you know what, maybe we do need to do this,
or say, you know what, I’m doing the right
thing, I think it’s right. It might be a preference. I mean, you know, you
have a lot of criticism nowadays with Yelp and OpenTable
and social media alone. You just got to take
with a grain of salt. And I think that you
kind of analyze it and you say is it right or
not, and then you move on. Because if you dwell
on it too much, you’ll be thinking
of it too much. But I think for the
most part, I think, everybody has a
different palate. And I think if you exercise
your palate enough, you kind of think about it. I mean, I like salt. You
know, I like salty things more than sweet things. So there’s people that
like sweeter things more. So it’s just kind of
educating and knowing yourself of how to approach it. Because if you cook
for, say, 100 people, there is going to be one
that might think different. So it’s very
challenging, for sure. AUDIENCE: Hi, chef. Thank you for coming out today. So it doesn’t really
matter how great your food is, if you
have poor service, it’s going to be a bad
experience for the customer. How do you partner
with the front of house and what are maybe
some of your pet peeves that you insist, you
know, whether it’s a little thing or an
overall philosophy, how you get the front of house
to present your food the way you want it? ROGELIO GARCIA: Yeah. I mean, number one
is communication. I think you have to
have, just like you would say to the cook, hey, this
is going to be our menu today, I’m going to guide
you through it, or I’m going to show
you how to cut this or that, it’s the same thing
with the front of the house. You just have to have that
strong partnership in the front of open communication. And then I think
one of my pet peeves is I really like to know people
that come for the first time to the restaurant, you know? Because I think that we want
to leave a great impression the first time. And I think that either
they’re by themselves or with a family or a couple
celebrating an anniversary– it’s important that
I know that they’re a first-time diner because you
want them to keep coming back. You want it to feel good. And yeah, I mean, it doesn’t
matter how good the food is if the service is not great. It all has to come together. It’s really hard to not find
good food in San Francisco. I think at minimum you
have to have good food. And I think that is going
to different everything else is service, it’s going
to be the small details, it’s having, you know,
if you’re celebrating a 50-year anniversary
or a birthday, it’s being able to have a
small touch that this is just for you because you came
to celebrate with us. So I think it’s all the details. So I think that’s
the biggest thing. So yeah. AUDIENCE: I think of, when
I think of Mexican food, I think of beans, squash, corn. I don’t think a lot of Americans
think about it that way. They think tacos with meat
or something like that. And I’m curious
about how you think about corn in the context of
the difference between American, like a yellow corn,
and corn from Oaxaca, which is a completely
different thing, right? What do you think
about what you think about those sort of
heirloom ingredients that are really just
traditional ingredients that haven’t been messed with? ROGELIO GARCIA: I mean, I think
you don’t see that a lot here. I did come across a lady
who, I forget her name, she’s got to be
like 65, she still goes to the farmer’s market. And she’s got amazing
heirloom corn, actually root from Oaxaca, right? And they have it in Santa Rosa. And she’s American. And I connected
with her and she’s got the whole molino of
how to grind the corn. And so she does it
there in her farm. And I was just like, wow. And I got a couple masa from
her, and it was amazing. It was just like if it
was coming from Mexico. So you know, there’s a lot
of people now being more aware of getting that corn. But yeah, I mean,
if you really think about the basics of Mexican
food, It’s definitely corn. It’s chilies, right, and beans. I mean, those are
the things, those are the roots of Mexican food. And then from there
you kind of build– it’s kind of like butter
and cream in France, right? And it’s the ingredients
because of the weather, because of the soil. That’s why it grows
the best in Mexico. So there’s another
farm in Sacramento that has great peppers as
well when it’s super hot here, because peppers
grow in the heat, and they’re super
spicier in the heat. So I think just ingredients– I mean, I wish that
there was more available, or there was an easier
way to kind of bring them back to the United
States from Mexico. But there’s a lot
of farmers here that also have a lot of good
chilies and a lot of good corn and a lot of good
beans, that they get their inspiration from Mexico. So yeah, I think there’s a
lot of stuff here in already. We’re not there yet, but I think
there’s still a lot of stuff here that we can use. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
Rogelio, as another Latino, I’m very proud to see the
work that you are doing. I’m very happy. And I want to see more
successes from your side. ROGELIO GARCIA: Thank you. Thank you. GUILLERMO QUEZADA:
And is there anything that you want to do as
closing words you want to say? ROGELIO GARCIA: I
mean, I just want to say thank you
guys for having me. It was definitely a pleasure. And if you ever happen
to be in Laurel Heights, come by and ask for me and
I’ll try to get you a table. But you know, thank
you guys, and– [LAUGHTER] GUILLERMO QUEZADA: So
for everyone at Google? [LAUGHTER] ROGELIO GARCIA: Let’s do it. We can bring Spruce
here, how about that? [LAUGHTER] GUILLERMO QUEZADA: I like that. ROGELIO GARCIA: But
yeah, I mean, thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for hopefully
being inspired. And I hope I get to
see you guys soon. Thank you. GUILLERMO QUEZADA: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

4 thoughts on “Chef Rogelio Garcia: “Top Chef, Spruce, & Beyond” | Talks at Google”

  1. thanks for these wonderful meeting's but I have a note make the guest speak slowly than that to be able to understand to Arabic people

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