The renowned Panamanian chef Hector Garcia is currently in a new professional stage, within a larger and more advanced structure, and with a challenge… to take the culinary level of the Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower to the highest level in Panama City. As Executive Chef, he knows all the human and infrastructure capabilities that this hotel has, elements that will be the basis to achieve it. However, Chef Hector has already begun to pave the way following his tradition of creating Panamanian and Latin food based on it, giving it a twist away from the traditional, and accompanied by a more personalized service. Always explaining to the Visitors where the dish comes from, its name and how is the process to make it according to the region of Panama. In the new Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower menu, each dish will have a story and that is what this interview is about, sharing the new process that this talented Chef has been experiencing and how he applies it to his new gastronomic creations.
What difference do you find between a national diner and a foreign one?
“The national diner respects what I am doing a lot for the simple fact that I respect the local product, but I am taking it to its maximum power. To the foreigner you have to explain the trend of what Panamanian food is. Internationally, many used to say that Panamanian food was fried, you explain how it is done and talk about the history of Panamanian food fused with European and Peruvian techniques and all this. That’s when you connect, always respecting the culture. That is the big difference.”
How do you want Chef Hector Garcia to be described now in the kitchen of the American Golden Tower?
“For me, it is expressing my feelings towards the kitchen, I let off steam by cooking. That love that I have always had for cooking is reflected and enjoyed in the flavors. That’s what I want people to see and understand. I don’t want to be the classic Chef who hides, but the one who comes out and says hello, the friend who comes back and sits down to talk, who can be called. I want to be more than the classic Chef who gets respect, I want them to also be able to tell you this is delicious… what can we do, and in this way invent new dishes at the moment. I want diners feel at home.”
What dishes of your creation are you going to have on your new menu?
“In this new phase I am looking for ingredients from the coast, like Darien, San Blas or products that are not well known here. So, I had to travel and see if I would be able to bring them. That Caribbean fusion with national products is where I want to go. We are going to make dishes with a couple of exotic meats, crocodile ceviche, which will be like a crocodile popcorn with tamarind sauce. In part of the entries, we are going to have a “carpaccio” cut at the moment, an international dish but made with national fillets that is mixed with hydroponic lettuce from Chiriqui. We are going to mix all the regions in the same plate. I’m even going to do what many hotels don’t do, bring a stock of fresh products to cook the really fresh product, and it’s going to be called the catch of the day. Every day we are going to invent a different dish with fish. We are even doing a project here in the restaurant that we are applying little by little, which is to grow different types of cilantro, coriander, where the diners will be able to see me go out to grab the fresh produce and prepare a dish, and so I mention that the dish I am preparing it with local ingredients, as well as with products grown within the hotel and that is not common. We are going to have small buckets with products already planted and we are going to have people choose the ingredients with which they are going to cook. Allow them to smell, touch the ingredients with which they are going to cook and see their freshness.
Among the main dishes we will have sea bass, salmon in citrus orange sauce, oranges will be brought directly from Chiriqui province. We are going to have the whole fish in the marinade style, which cannot be missing. Many people have ordered tropical food. In this case, it has what we call coriander sprouts. We are also going to have a special meat raised in Aguadulce, which is rabbit, widely consumed in that area. We have a 100% certified farm for sale and we are going to make a stew with vegetables. Also, different textures of San Blas rice. We also got puffed red rice from Darien. These are dishes that we are going to have from the indigenous culture and part of the capital city.”
How long have you been thinking and planning this menu?
“I have about six months developing them. It is not easy, mixing the flavors, you had to try different technics. You have to test the texture, find out from the farmer that they feed the animal with, for example, what the rabbit eats in order to know the texture that the meat will have. For these reasons it is not an easy process to bring success to the plate.
I also want to unite the culture of Panamanian food with small beer and wine tastings, and look for that match between the people who are going to come to eat and enjoy a good drink. I want to have people gather here to close a deal accompanied by a good meal. Make them feel confident and relax.
At the entrance I am going to make a kind of rolled up ripe plantain with pig, which I am going to take into a dough and we are going to put the pig on it and we are going to roll it up. And I’m going to melt that with white cheese on top with a chombo chili sauce on top. I assure you that this is going to be a dish that you are going to like a lot.”
Tell us about your personal ventures, apart from this new project.
“I will continue to do consulting on preparing menus for clients.
Besides, I continue with Cevicheria Garcia, which started during the pandemic. I have always managed to do what I like which is to cook, to be active in different ways. Today I can show you that with the same ingredients I can make a basic kitchen and an elevated kitchen. I have always wanted to show that I can cook in a hotel or a fonda by cooking over wood. Having all the facets that wherever you see me you will taste the quality of the flavor, created with a lot of love.”