Interview with Chef Jose Salazar

Meet Chef Jose Salazar, the owner behind two of Cincinnati’s prominent restaurants, Salazar and Mita’s. A native of Colombia, South America and raised in Queens, New York, his background serves as inspiration for his unique culinary creations. Learn more about this highly skilled chef in our exclusive Q&A!

 


Q: How many years have you been cooking as a professional chef?

A. I have been cooking professionally for 18 years.


Q: How did you originally get interested in cooking as a profession?

A. I was working in restaurants as a server and bartender and realized that I was way more interested in making the food then I was in serving it.


Q: What are 5 ingredients that can always be found in your kitchen at home?

A. Salt, Kimchi, Garlic, American Cheese, Mustard


Q: You are known for using locally-sourced ingredients in many of your dishes at Salazar. What is a common misconception with Farm-to-Table cooking that you’d like to change?

A. I think that a lot of people associate farm to table with fussy or fancy. For us, when we get products that are fresh, vibrant and flavorful, we tend to not want to manipulate them too much. For that reason our food can often end up a bit more rustic or simplistic while delivering great flavor.


Q: Would you be willing to share some of the names of the farms that you currently source ingredients from and why you find it important to source local ingredients?

A. We have a longstanding relationship with many farms, mostly small family farms such as “Sally and Son’s”, “Carriage House Farms”, “Turner Farms” and “Sakura Wagyu Farms”. I think it’s important to source locally, A. most of the time you will get a better tasting/fresher product and B. It is a way to help support the local economy and by doing that we build a community that sustains one another.


Q: You’ve worked under several acclaimed chefs over the years, such as Chef Thomas Keller. What’s a piece of advice or culinary knowledge that they’ve shared with you that has influenced the way you cook?

A. Actually the one common trait that every great Chef I’ve worked for has taught me relates right back to the previous question—which is just how important it is to source good (often local) products. The foundation for great food is all in the ingredients that you start with.


Q: Who do you look up to for culinary inspiration and why?

A. I have always admired Chef Michel Bras. While I’ve never met him or had the pleasure of tasting his food, he’s one of the Chefs who has been a great inspiration to me. I bought his book “Essential Cuisine” early in my cooking career and I recall being amazed at how elegant, yet clean and unpretentious it seemed. His philosophies on seasonal cooking, dedication to his craft, love for nature and precise technique have influenced my approach to cooking and sourcing.


Q: What is a food trend or ingredient that you predict will grow in popularity in 2019?

A. I think fermentation and preservation is going to grow in popularity. It’s kind of crazy to think of it as trendy, since as a society many of us had to use preservation to survive before industrialization made most foods readily available.


Q: What is one of your favorite cookbooks that you have in your collection?

A. “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating” by Fergus Henderson. I have such admiration for Chef Henderson’s ballsy cooking. He has inspired so many of us Chefs to cook the often forgotten bits of the animals that would sometimes be treated as trash.


Q: What’s one ingredient that people should be using more of in their kitchens and why?

A. Anchovies, they have such a unique flavor and can bring seasoning and add the umami needed to elevate a dish. They are so maligned and I suppose because like a lot of ingredients there are some of exceptional quality and some that just plain suck. I think most people think about the bad ones when thinking about anchovies.


Q: When you go out to eat, what are some of your favorite restaurants to visit around the Greater Cincinnati area?

A. We don’t have a lot of time to eat out, but one of my favorites is “Please” owned and operated by Chef Ryan Santos. His food is very cerebral, yet fun and playful. He’s doing some really innovative and interesting things with both the food and beverages. For a quick casual meal, we go to “Zip’s Cafe” a Cincinnati institution that serves a kick ass burger and has the feeling that only a nearly 90-year-old restaurant can.


 

Blistered Shishito Peppers Recipe

Chef Jose Salazar also shared his recipe for Blistered Shishito Peppers. View the full recipe here!

 


More About Chef Jose Salazar

Chef Jose Salazar was born in Colombia, South America and was raised in Queens, New York. Chef Salazar got his start in restaurants as a bartender and waiter at some of New York’s hottest establishments—among them, Donatella Arapia’s Bellini restaurant. Although the front of the house is where he started, it was the kitchen that really caught his eye. This prompted him to enroll in to the culinary program at the New York Restaurant School. Upon graduating in 2001 he landed an internship with famed Chef Jean George Vongerichten at his name sake restaurant; Jean George. After completing the internship, he went on to work with some of New York’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs, including Geoffrey Zakarian of Town, Josh DeChellis of Sumile, and Eric and Bruce Bromberg of Blue Ribbon. However, it was Jose’s four years working with Chef Thomas Keller that made the most palpable impression on his cooking philosophies.

In 2003 Jose was hired as chef de partie to be a part of the opening staff of the highly acclaimed Per-Se restaurant. Then in 2006 he was instrumental in the opening of another of Chef Keller’s projects; Bouchon Bakery, where he became the Executive Sous-Chef.

In 2008, Chef Salazar took his knowledge and experience to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was tapped to be the Executive Chef of The historical Cincinnatian Hotel and Palace restaurant. It’s there that Jose was able to hone his style of cooking, incorporating the ingredients and techniques of the Americas, Europe and Japan. Since his arrival to the Queen city, Jose has received many favorable reviews, including 5 stars (the highest rating) from Polly Campbell of The Cincinnati Enquirer. He’s also garnered national attention- In 2011 Food and Wine magazine awarded him the title of people’s choice “Best New Chef”.

In December of 2013 Chef Salazar and his wife Ann opened Salazar, their much anticipated restaurant in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. Immediately after opening it was clear that Salazar was going to be a hit. Their modern bistro is packed nightly with diners eating foods such as duck rillettes, fried oyster sliders, and “everything salmon”. This little 45-seater, is often considered among the best that Cincinnati has to offer.

In 2015 Jose and Ann opened Mita’s, a 135-seat restaurant located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. This restaurant features the food and drinks of Spain and Latin America with a formal, but laid back design. In just a short three years, Mita’s has already set itself apart with wonderful food, service and ambiance. Jose and Mita’s have received many local and national accolades, most notably nominations from the James Beard Foundation in 2016, ‘17 & ‘18 for Best Chef, Great Lakes.