Puerto Rican chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez has managed to successfully combine the flavors and textures of his Caribbean culinary heritage with those of his adopted hometown of New Orleans.
Gonzalez, who is chef de cuisine, or head chef, at the SoBou restaurant in New Orleans, has developed a unique culinary concept that draws on cooking from both places.
"The food at SoBou is inspired by the street food of Louisiana, but it has a certain Caribbean air," the chef told Efe.
The menu includes traditional Cajun dishes, such as gumbos, and shrimp kebabs, tacos made from roast pork and pork rinds, all popular dishes in the chef's native Puerto Rico.
Although it is not widely known, both cuisines share many common elements, Gonzalez said.
"Puerto Rico's food has many fritters, like the one here," the chef said.
The chef, who has worked for 14 years at the highly regarded restaurants owned by the Brennan family in Louisiana and Texas, was able to adapt easily to Louisiana cuisine.
Gonzalez, who trained under renowned chef Eric Ripert at New York's Le Bernardin, started in the business at a young age.
"I was 19 when I started working at Le Bernardin," Gonzalez said. "It was a tremendous opportunity."
Ripert saw that Gonzalez was talented and recommended him to the Culinary Institute of America, or CIA, where he got his formal training.
Gonzalez studied at the CIA for 18 months and then jumped at an opportunity to work at the famous Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans under late chef Jamie Shannon.
The chef worked at the Commander's Palace and Cafe Adelaide in New Orleans, then he took the helm at Houston's Alex Bistro in 2008.
He returned to New Orleans in 2012 to launch SoBou with friend and culinary adviser Tory McPhail, who is the chef at Commander's Palace.
"I loved the city so much that I never left," Gonzalez said. EFE