This past year, restaurateur Gary Rack welcomed chef and Delray Beach native Demetrio Zavala as director of culinary for Gary Rack Restaurants, including Gary Rack’s Farmhouse Kitchen in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. A frequent face on the Food Network, Zavala has appeared on Chopped many times—winning the grand prize twice—so he knows a thing or two about crafting unique dishes on the fly. At Farmhouse Kitchen, Zavala is upholding Rack’s farm-to-table philosophy, using clean, locally sourced ingredients and zero-waste cooking methods. To augment the menus, Zavala has introduced “Chef’s Offerings” that reflect his culinary approach, such as carbonara with butternut squash and mushroom risotto with walnut picada. PBI recently caught up with the chef to talk about his favorite ingredients and more.
PBI: What do you consider some of your culinary signatures?
Zavala: Any of the chef specials, you’ll know they’re mine because there are much more layers of flavor. I believe in aromatics. I believe in acid. I believe in enjoying different nuances of flavor. Sometimes you eat and you only get one dimension of flavor. I want to trick you a little bit and give you something to where maybe it’s rich, but then the finish has a lot of herbs and then a little bit of acidity, whether it’s lemon or sherry vinegar. When you eat like that, it makes you feel less heavy and like you’re not eating that much. It helps with digestion as well.
What are some key tools for home cooking if you’re really aiming to create zero waste?
I have two things in my kitchen, and I never turn on my stove. I have an air fryer and a sous-vide circulator. That’s all you need. With an air fryer, you can dehydrate, you can make purees—like a cauliflower. Everybody discards the leaves. Everybody discards the heart. All you’ve got to do is peel back the heart, take the leaves, and put it together and make cauliflower puree, soup, risotto. You could make risotto without even adding rice.
What is always in your fridge?
I love beets. I always have carrots. I juice a lot, so I always have parsley, apples, cucumbers, those things. I always have Dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, grain mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce. I like making Vietnamese food too, so I’ll have palm sugar, rice vinegar, and túóng ót tói or even sambal oelek, which is like a spicy chili paste. I make a pretty killer risotto that has coconut, sambal, and duck confit.
What are your favorite Floridian ingredients that are in season during the winter?
Citrus. Florida’s all about citrus. I make these purees, which I like to do with lemons and oranges. I put the whole orange in aluminum foil with a little salt and pepper, then I roast it at like 300. I pull it apart and make a puree out of the whole orange, with the peel and everything. I accent lamb dishes and everything with that. I make a lemon puree that’ll blow your mind. The orange puree, it’s like eating 20 oranges in one little half a spoonful.
If you were creating a Chopped basket, what would you put in it?
I’d probably do pickled black walnuts, kombu, some Nashville hot chicken, and a panna cotta.