Last summer, West Palm’s burgeoning dining scene welcomed the long-awaited debut of Clay Carnes’ Cholo Soy Cocina. Drawn to Antique Row’s progressive vibe, the Wellington resident transformed a postage-stamp-sized boutique on Dixie Highway into one of South Florida’s hippest dining spots.
Here, guests line up to watch the Food Network Cutthroat Kitchen winner prepare authentic Andean-inspired dishes and street-style tacos served with handmade toppings like passion fruit aji-mayo and a savory slaw made with carrots, scallions, and Swank Farms’ purple cabbage.
Like authenticity, sustainable practices are also key for Carnes: He grows fresh herbs and chilies onsite and sources the white corn for his scratch made masa tortillas from a network of farms in Alachua County. The corn isn’t less expensive but “as long as I can support the local agricultural community, that’s what matters.”
PBI.com: What should guests know about your culinary style?
Carnes: I tend not to overdo things. I like simple, delicious food. That’s what I do. I don’t need to let diners know that I spent six hours making their octopus sous vide. Who cares. Technique is what sets us apart.
What’s the toughest challenge of opening a restaurant?
Meeting deadlines. You are always at someone else’s mercy. I like to be in control and when you are building out the restaurant, there are so many moving parts and approval processes. You really have to learn to be flexible.
Name something about the restaurant you’re proud of.
My father and I are literally built this restaurant together. I know where everything is, how it was made, and how to fix it.
Where do you source your creativity?
I love to pull inspiration and creativity from all around me, especially when I travel. You can’t really, really creative without seeing other things.
Where will we find you when you aren’t in the kitchen?
You can probably find me building something at home … or hanging with my family at the beach and teaching my oldest son to surf.
Tell us something we don’t know about you, but should.
I am pretty good at golf. Seriously.
What’s your greatest cooking influence?
Growing up in the cooking game, Kent Thurston III really inspired me to be better and to read and research. Another influence is my mother-in-law, Dianita. Everything she touches in her kitchen in Cuenca, Ecuador turns to gold.
Share an overrated food trend we’ll never find at your restaurant.
Bacon in drinks and the word ‘deconstructed.’
Any advice for chefs who would like to walk in your crocs?
Get a job washing dishes. It is very humbling and it gives you a true experience on the good and bad of working in a restaurant.