Fashion

Iron Chef Jose Garces Pays It Forward To Boost The Fortunes Of Less Fortunate Chefs

The Forbes five-star restaurant that debuted seven years ago with lofty ambitions to elevate Philadelphia’s fine-dining offerings is reopening for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic — and this time it’s striving to set an example for its community leadership instead of its ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful original concept that required weekend patrons to pre-pay $150 for a 14-course prix-fixe tasting menu (wine pairing cost extra). Volvér — the show-stopping establishment that Iron Chef and James Beard Foundation award winner Jose Garces opened at the Kimmel Cultural Campus in 2014 — is debuting a residency program designed to boost the fortunes of local professional chefs from underrepresented backgrounds who suffered financially from the pandemic.

The Chefs in Residency program puts selected chefs’ signature dishes on the menu for 6-8 weeks each, alongside Graces’ French-inspired meals. The Garces Foundation is accepting donations and will match up to $5,000 to raise money for each chef to support their work at existing venues or to launch a new one. 

“As a Latin Chef and business owner, I’ve faced my share of adversity and am grateful to be in a place where I can ‘pay it forward’ to those emerging onto the Philadelphia food scene with ambitious goals of their own,” writes Garces in a statement.

The restaurant, whose reopening coincides with the return of performances to the city’s premier arts venue, launches the residency with Chef Kiki Aranita, who closed her Hawaiian concept Poi Dog Philly during the pandemic. 

“It’s a small homecoming of sorts, to be involved with Volvér,” writes Aranita. “My first job when I moved to Philadelphia almost a decade ago was at (Garces eatery) JG Domestic (as a food runner!). It was there that I gained the connections to start Poi Dog the food truck – and gained a foothold on living in this new city.”

Some of the chefs’ stints will coincide with national months that celebrate their heritage. Chef Jen Zavala of the upcoming Juana Tamale eatery, for example, represents Women’s History Month in March; Chef Dane DeMarco of Sonny’s Cocktail Bar and Wine Dive will represent Gay Pride Month in June; and for Asian and Pacific Heritage Month in May, Chef Alexander Yoon of Little Fish BYO.

“This opportunity is a dream come true,” Yoon says in a statement. “I have long admired Chef Jose and all of his restaurants, especially Volvér, so to have the opportunity to cook in that kitchen with Chef was something I couldn’t turn away.”

Volvér opened with grand ambitions but ultimately abandoned it after he couldn’t quite make the high-price, prix-fixe-only concept work. Garces, a Philly darling who once owned dozens of popular dining rooms across the country, revamped Volvér once or twice, and dropped the ticketed prix-fixe requirements in the process. Blaming an overleveraged relationship with investors in some of his other locations (some of whom sued Garces), he declared bankruptcy in 2018, closed three of his restaurants and sold his business to Ballard Brands for a reported $5 million. Since then, he’s continued to run recipe development and operations as culinary director for Volvér and his eating empire, which has scaled back to ten restaurants in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.


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