COLUMN = FOOD
I grew up in Guatemala, and the thing that is etched in my memory is the scene of my grandmother, aunts, and mother preparing a meal at my grandmother’s ranch outside the city. 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. But 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, a 100-year-old establishment with a wonderful history that Kim and I turned into one of the most unique gourmet markets and catering companies in the region, as CNN Money noted. We closed the Market in March and soon after began working on opening our new restaurant, Avenida.
The goal for me as head chef at this new Latin American restaurant is to bring my childhood memories to life for my kids and my customers. 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.
For more information about Avenida, visit www.avenidarestaurant.com. And to make a reservation to sample the fine Latin American dishes that are getting rave reviews, call Kim Katz Alvarez at 267.385.6857.