At Mercat a la Planxa, Iron Chef Jose Garces may be the executive chef, but it's chef Cory Morris who is in charge of the kitchen on a day-to-day basis. Garces is only in town intermittently, but he makes sure to stop by Mercat for a full menu tasting at least once a quarter, when Morris presents him with a series of new dishes he'd like to add to the menu. Everything must go through Garces for final approval before it becomes a part of the permanent menu, but Morris and his staff are free to serve daily or weekly specials to keep generating ideas and experimenting with new ingredients and techniques.
Morris has been with Mercat since the restaurant opened in 2008 and took over as chef de cuisine in 2010. "He had a lot of raw talent," Garces says of Morris, "but he started out pretty green. At the beginning we noticed that we weren't aligning in terms of concept. He was cooking from the heart, but in his style and he wasn't embracing the Catalan concept, which is what Mercat is all about." A couple of trips to Spain served as hands-on research and helped Morris realize the culture and cuisine. "The adjustments I have to make to the menu have become a lot less over the years," Garces says.
The executive chef wasn't here merely to enjoy the food, but to approach everything with a critical eye and tongue to determine which dishes are worthy of inclusion on the menu. With this tasting, Garces seemed pretty pleased with Morris and the kitchen, especially his vegetable dishes, which Mercat is becoming known for. "We'll do one more round of tasting with the tweaks before I leave," Garces says. "And we'll be good to go."
Check out the process by clicking on the slideshow.