By Catherine Dunwoody
New Westminster’s Wild Rice may well serve some of the best Asian soul food around, and young chef Jericho Garcia can most certainly be credited. He shared his journey with me, and clearly he is a talent to watch.
Where were you born?
Jericho Garcia: I was born in the largest group of islands in Philippines – Luzon, in the town of Pampanga which sits on the northern shore of Manila Bay. It is surrounded by commercial fishponds and rice fields.
What was food like in your growing up household?
Garcia: I grew up in a culture where food preparation is taken seriously. Authentic traditional recipes are handed down generation after generation and kept as a family treasure. We had access to the best seafood the Pacific Ocean has to offer.
Where did you study cooking and when?
Garcia: When I was about 8 years old my parents had a small cantina that served the best pancit (noodles) in town. Though I was too young to get in to the business, I was always fascinated by my parents’ passion for cooking. I’ve been a student of the craft and art of cooking for as long as I can remember even though I have never taken a single culinary class in a formal school environment.
What was your first paying job?
Garcia: At Wendy’s [fast food restaurant] two weeks after my family moved to Canada. I was 17 years old. I was assigned to cook fries, flip burgers and assemble sandwiches.
What was your most rewarding experience in your early days?
Garcia: When you are in the business of cooking for people, every day seems to be rewarding, especially when you see people enjoying your creations. One of the most rewarding milestones of my life took place when I was dishwashing at Earl’s Restaurant. That is where I started to fall in love with what I do. We had the perfect team – I was the best dishwasher around, the nightshift was led by my former Sous Chef Justin Yoon (who is now the Head Chef of Earl’s Victoria) and a very young, up and coming Sous Chef, Levy Johnston. Under them was a group of passionate, hard-working cooks. These two chefs saw great potential in me and I was promoted as 3rd cook after not quite a year in the dish pit. At that moment I found my purpose. I was deeply passionate and I was eager. I had never felt something similar to this in all my life, so at first I didn’t know how to act. My chefs had faith in me and they kept me in line with my goals. Even though I had such great passion for my craft, if it hadn’t been for their mentorship I might not have made it as far as I have.
Are you involved with any new projects or collaborations?
Garcia: The most recent one was on my 26th birthday. Instead of celebrating it with my family and friends like I usually do, I had this great idea of volunteering for homeless people and sharing love with the part of our society who need it most. So I took a trip to Victoria by myself and stayed at a motel right next to the homeless shelter. I volunteered for two days cooking batches of food and feeding the hungry. It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my entire life and the memories of that experience still tears me up inside. On my 27th birthday I’m planning to do the same thing.
Do you have a signature dish?
Garcia: Adobo ramen. I mix adobo sauce with chicken stock to give it a bit of tang but not over-powering. Then I pair this with traditional aspects of a ramen bowl – firm and chewy ramen noodles, soy-marinated soft-boiled eggs (with the yolk that melts in your mouth but firm enough not to mix with the soup) and thick creamy chicken broth with a slight hint of dried kelp and dried shitake mushrooms. That way I can keep the integrity of a traditional ramen and fuse it with the flavour of adobo I grew up with.
Do you plan to become a certified chef?
Garcia: Becoming a certified chef would be a confirmation of my hard work. Although it is nice to see yourself with a diploma and that tiny red circle on your jacket, my plans are far deeper than that. Cooking is my way of generosity. I thought I didn’t have much to give and not much to offer but cooking changed that for me. All of the sudden I can connect to the people I love. I can give happiness, I can give comfort. I create memories that might not last a lifetime but I think if I do it consistently, they just might. I don’t think I cook better than anybody else – I’ve never seen it that way, never will. The only possible difference is that I really love what I’m doing and who am I doing it for. The thrill of knowing what triggers someone’s appetite is the greatest challenge about cooking. It’s not always about the money, it’s not always about the depth of your knowledge. Sometimes it’s simply about the pure love of sharing that makes a chef successful.