Signature Dish: Solera's chef Jorge Guzman

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Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/
Solera Chef Jorge Guzman presents his Lomo de Cerdo, a historical representation of ropa vieja

In the search for the Twin Cities' best culinary creations, we often come across dishes that stop us mid-bite and force us to reflect on the level of thought and artistry chefs put into their work. The efforts of the chefs are often laborious, and the end results are regularly consumed before the full concept can be appreciated. We've been tracking down some of these dishes to get the chef's side of the story; their thoughts, motivations, and processes. It's our hope that we can give you a deeper insight into the talents of Twin Cities chefs and to have a better understanding of what you're getting when you sit down to dinner.

Chef Jorge Guzman has been the man behind the food at the Twin Cities' top tapas spot, Solera, for several years now.  He wasn't a man who was handed the keys to a golden kingdom, but instead walked into a restaurant with a troubled reputation. Guzman has spent a tremendous amount of time doing things to help breathe life back into what was once a Twin Cities favorite, and he has succeeded. It's quite possible that Solera is better now than it ever has been.

Chef Guzman maintains a wealth of knowledge he uses to create simple yet spectacularly delicious small plates that hold true to the tradition of Spanish tapas. The dishes are never overly complicated, and the balances of flavors is always exceptional and clean. While Guzman doesn't have a Spanish background, he's managed to develop a strong understanding of the flavors and techniques associated with the tastes of the region while incorporating some of his traditional Mexican roots.

Solera Chef Jorge Guzman.jpg
Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/
Solera's head chef, Jorge Guzman
Guzman grew up the product of a single-parent household and took to cooking to help out because of his mother's hectic work schedule. Guzman has deep culinary attachments to his family's region of Mexico, and he has deep admiration for both his aunt's and his grandmother's cooking. These things helped give him the inspiration to reinvent the way his family was eating. "Thomas Keller and Jesus Christ could cook for me and I'd still think that my grandmother's cooking would be better than theirs," boasts Guzman.
 

It was toward the end of his high school career that he had his first venture into the world of cooking, based on the recommendation of a friend's father. Guzman explains, "One of my friends' dads was a purveyor, and he was like, 'if you really want to be a chef, why don't you go work with one of my buddies and see what it's like.' So I went and worked for a really traditionally French restaurant. I would prep in the morning; I would bus or expedite in the evenings. Expediting is not easy to do, but for some reason I really caught on quickly."

He then left for college and took some time away from the kitchen. Guzman attended Drake University in Iowa, where he received a four-year degree in journalism. Toward the end of his time in college, he started back in the kitchen, but the experience was less than fulfilling.  A friend of his helped him get a job, and "we were slinging burgers, pastas and salads," Guzman explains, "I can still recite the menu and recite the pickups in my head: chicken finger salads, turkey mango-tango salads. It was like Applebee's on steroids."

Solera Chef Jorge Guzman at Work_sized.jpg
Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/
Chef Guzman prepares the piperade
After his time at Drake, Guzman moved on to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. While there he took tutelage from veteran chef Anita Eisenhauer, a distinguished New York chef who would serve as both a mentor and a source of inspiration for Guzman. They still keep in touch.

 After CIA, Guzman moved home and started a short-lived stage with well-known Twin Cities chef Vincent Francoual. Unfortunately the pay scale at the  time wasn't enough to support his two student loans, so Guzman went to work for Redstone, where he learned a good deal about operations management. He took some time off and moved to Colorado for a brief period before moving on to Chicago, where he ran a small bistro and wine bar. After about a year, he moved back to Minneapolis and became the head chef of the now closed Tejas, then moved on to a stint at the Minneapolis farm-to-table pioneer Corner Table. After that, he bounced around a few other Twin Cities hot spots before finding himself at his current home, Solera.

Chef Guzman spends a tremendous amount of time immersed in researching not only ingredients but history. The dish he prepared for us reflects that in a way that is simply profound. Guzman traces the dish's past from its origins on Spain's Canary Islands to several islands in the Caribbean, most notably Cuba. The dish evolved while making its way along trade routes, and Guzman incorporates elements from all aspects of the dish's roots into one flavorful combination.

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Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/
The deconstructed Lomo
The dish, as it's found on Solera's menu, is called Lomo de Cerdo, but another, perhaps more common name for the dish is ropa vieja, comprised of slow-braised beef or pork in a tomato sauce, often served with plantains and black beans. Guzman's version of the dish largely returns it to its Spanish origins and utilizes a perfectly grilled hunk of pork loin in lieu of the braised meats. Instead of plantains and black beans, Guzman plates the dish using a chickpea puree, which holds truer to the Spanish origins of the dish, and then tops it with a piperade sauce. The piperade is Basque in origin and contains peppers, onions, and garlic that all get rendered down into an extremely flavorful sauce. The pork tenderloin reflects a little bit more of the dish's Latin American background and is marinated with chayote, garlic, and pimenton, giving the pork a reddish hue and tangy flavor. The dish is finished with a few leaves of fried cilantro, and the end result is elegantly simple and immensely flavorful. 

Chef Guzman is a driven man with a thirst for knowledge, which shows in the plates he puts out. Whereas the Twin Cities scene is focused on modern American or Scandinavian-influenced cuisine, Guzman is doing something a little different. With a focus on quality ingredients coupled with the historical and cultural backgrounds of dishes, he is not only looking to feed the people of the Twin Cities but to offer them a culinary education, whether they know it or not.

Solera Lomo de Cerdo Final dish.jpg
Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/


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Solera Restaurant & Event Center

900 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN

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4 comments
jason.dorweiler
jason.dorweiler

That looks pretty damn edible.

Whats up with your TC line though?

"Whereas the Twin Cities scene is focused on modern American or Scandinavian-influenced cuisine"

I think this city is focused on more French Modern or fusion cuisine rather than Scandinavian...how many restaurants are Scan influenced anyway?

FoodStoned
FoodStoned

@jason.dorweiler I just think we have different names for the same thing. Modern American restaurants in town are things like Hot Dish, Butcher & the Boar, Victory 44, Travail, etc. French technique with American flair. Scandanavian places, while not in great numbers, are high in the minds of food folks around town. Places like the Bachelor Farmer and Fika are all the rage.

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