Chicago O'Hare

Picture the scene: you’re greeted by a smiling host and escorted to your seat. You can smell the flavors of garlic and hear the sounds of sizzling from the grill. You and your guest are guided through the dining room, where you pass by a couple already consuming their dinner and can’t help sneaking a peek at what is on their plate — salmon and broccolini and a bottle of wine resting at the corner of the table. You arrive at your table, just around the corner from the open kitchen in The Ashburn. You can hear the sounds of the chefs conversing, the clatter of pots and pans… and, well, what sounds like chaos. But, this is in fact very controlled chaos. A bustling scene where every single person behind the line has one goal — to make your dining experience one to remember.

The Ashburn Restaurant at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel

I’ve always had a fascination with the kitchen atmosphere in restaurants. For someone who works via a laptop most days, the idea of the non-stop hustle that goes on behind the scenes after you place your order is nothing short of a modest miracle. And having a stellar chef at the helm is key to the entire production.

Here at The Ashburn, located at Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel, the talented and dedicated chef in this crucial position is Chef de Cuisine, Jose “Tiny” Garay. His passion for uncovering new ways to infuse flavors into his dishes does not go unnoticed, so I spoke to him to find out more about his culinary inspirations.

Jose Garay, Chef de Cuisine
The Ashburn

How long have you been a chef and what steered you down the culinary career path?

I have been in the culinary field since May 2006, when I first came from Mexico City to start working in a restaurant with my father. He’s retired now but during the holiday season, we always try to cook together and keep learning from each other.

Who is your culinary inspiration?

I was first inspired by my grandmother Hermelinda and my mother Rocio. They were famous in Mexico City for their unique seasonings of classic dishes. I was inspired by how they started every day around 7 AM, going to the Mercado (farmer’s market) to buy produce. I would always ask them questions — how many chilies to put in the salsa, what type of meat were they using, how long should it be cooked for? One of my favorite dishes that my mom made was a delicious piece of grilled queso fresco topped with salsa. My grandma’s — a beautiful and crispy battered fish or shrimp tacos.

My older sister Rosa also helped my mom and grandma and then went to work in a cafeteria. I was anxious to learn how to cook in bigger quantities from her. At the same time, my dad, Jose Angel Garay Senior, started working in the U.S., first in a kitchen in a California hospital and then in Chicago, where he became a chef for an entertainment company. I would talk to him at least once a week, asking him a million questions. That prompted me to start a tourism class during high school in Mexico. I wanted to work in the restaurant business even if I started out as a dishwasher or doing prep. I wound up working as a prep cook in the same kitchen as my dad and learned all the moving parts of restaurant life. I also worked a second job with Chef Mike Kurotobi, who give me the chance to be a pizza cook and a sauté cook and taught me about his roots in Peruvian/Japanese food.

What is your favorite dish at the Ashburn?

If I had to pick one salad — the Chicken and Waffles Salad with spicy maple aioli and hard-boiled eggs. For an appetizer, the Seared Feta Cheese. It reminds me of my mom’s special queso with fresh salsa and fresh homemade tortillas, but infused with a gastro pub touch.

Seared Feta at The Ashburn
Photo Credit: A Full Living

My favorite main is the Skylon Burger because I love the crispy, spicy, sweet and salty pieces of bacon that are a perfect match for the fresh avocado and chipotle aioli. Our Rotisserie Chicken uses a recipe inspired by my mom, my dad, my sister and my grandma. The roasting rub I use has a base of dried chilies and spices that take me back to my childhood.

What is your favorite dish to cook at home for your family?

They love it when I make them seafood pasta or paella. My daughters love when I make baked mac and cheese with crispy chicken.

 

The Ashburn Cheesecake made with the #FlavorOHare partner Rare Bird Preserves.
Photo Credit: A Full Living

It’s clear that Chef Jose’s humble beginnings in the culinary world helped mold his work ethic and carve out his own niche. He’s also clearly thrilled to be doing what he loves — whenever I’m at The Ashburn, I see him chatting to guests from the kitchen and out and about in the dining room, charming everyone with his fun-loving personality.

Come and meet Chef Jose at The Ashburn to meet the man and sample his creations for yourself. Just make sure you leave room for dessert!

Kelly