Jorge Guzman of Solera: Chef Chat, Part 2

Today we spend more time with Jorge Guzman, executive chef at Solera. Born in Mexico, raised in St. Louis, he found himself in Minneapolis after following his heart and his college girlfriend (now fiancee.)

Yesterday we chatted with Guzman about the beginning of his culinary career and where he grew up. We left off as he was just about to open his own restaurant. Today we discuss with him what went wrong, how he found his way to Solera, and why life is best spent with friends, food, wine, and belly laughs.

Where was your restaurant?

In Anoka, [it was called] Lumpy's. That was a hard lesson to learn. I was so focused on what was in front of me ... if I'd stood back and...  We were losing tons of money, and it turned out someone was embezzling. That was so difficult. We started not being able to pay our vendors--we went to the city, the police, no one wanted to pursue it. I mean, this guy was faking stage 4 cancer. He'd shaved his head and had everyone fooled. Turns out he was gambling.

That's awful.
Yes. After that I called J.D. [Fratzke]--he said they weren't looking, but it never hurts to apply.  I came in and interviewed, and I interviewed with Graves. Did a tasting. I ended up cooking for a while with J.D. and Tyge [Nelson] at the Inn.

It was while I was there that I got another call from Graves. In the end I did three tastings, and I was offered the position.

When you began at Solera, things seemed to be in flux.  What was that like to walk in to?
We ended up having about 100% turnover. I was cooking every day for four months. I didn't have a single day off for the first two months that I worked here.

Now we have great cooks. My executive sous chef, Alex Herreid, he has been the cornerstone of Solera. We literally could not do it without him. It's his world downstairs. 

The entire management team is all on good terms, we all have really good chemistry.

We also have really talented servers. You know that front-of-house vs. back-of-house stuff just doesn't exist here.

What kind of promotions are you doing?
We still have Terrace Tuesdays, $25 for tapas and wines. Wednesday is date night. Thursday is happy hour all day. On the 27th we're doing a paella class for only $35.

I've also been doing monthly pig roasts with live blues. On the 28th we're doing another one, but this time it'll be wine and swine. We do it right out here on the street.

That must drive the people over on the Saloon patio crazy.
We've made some friends. I've heard good things.

How would you describe your style of cooking?
My style of cooking is very simple. I like to cook simple, traditional food. It is Spanish food here, but there are so many regions in Spain, it's more than Basque cuisine.

It's all about getting the best ingredients possible and executing it well.

I really want people to like the tapas. It's all about belly laughs. Order a bottle of wine, relax, and enjoy your life with friends. It's so much better to order a bunch of plates and share everything.

Read our final entry with Guzman tomorrow when he discusses more in depth the food he grew up cooking, what he loves to make now and why beans really are magical--it's not just a clever song.

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