CHRISTMAS WITHOUT the swine? Not in Jose's world.
Although he was born in Chicago, "Iron Chef" and restaurateur Jose Garces is a product of his parents' Ecuadorean roots.
While other families were passing the Pillsbury dinner rolls and carving the holiday Butterball turkey, his clan reveled in roasted leg of pork with sides like black beans and roasted hominy salad. In his family, like those of millions of other newly minted Americans, embracing a new home came with a heaping helping of old homeland comfort food on the side.
"It just isn't Christmas without slow-roasted pork," said the chef, who rose to the challenge of crafting a Latin-accented holiday feast for the Daily News, drawn from his latest cookbook, The Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru ($35, Lake Isle Press). In the book, Garces mines his gastronomic journey, dedicating each chapter to a place that greatly influenced his style.
First, there's Ecuador, with traditional recipes of his childhood that he prepared alongside his mother and grandmother in the family kitchen.
Then it's on to Spain, where he studied after graduating from culinary school, and Cuba, the birthplace of his wife Dr. Beatriz Garces and her family, where his professional and personal paths intersect.
Next, Garces delves into Mexico, the inspiration for Distrito, one of his most popular restaurant concepts, and finally Peru, which he considers a gastronomic capital that is at once new and comforting. It's also the inspiration for Chifa, his eatery on Chestnut Street.
Garces, a challenger on "Iron Chef America" since 2008, created a holiday menu that reminds him of his own family table, influenced by his childhood in an immigrant household and melded with his wife's Cuban roots.
Where his parents would include a slow-roasted leg of pork, his wife's family won't settle for anything less than a whole suckling pig, always consumed on Christmas Eve. Garces remembers the year he took the family away to the Caribbean for the holidays and found himself in the grocery store looking for a decent pork shoulder, which he cooked with black beans and tostones.
"If my in-laws hadn't been with us, maybe we'd have had red snapper. But that just wasn't happening."
Usually, the big show around the Garces household is Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day reserved for leftover pork sandwiches, maybe pressed Cuban-style.
But if he had his druthers, this five-course, multinational feast would grace the Garces family's holiday table. Here's the mouthwatering menu plus a few recipes, with the Iron Chef's tips for preparation along the way.