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5 Questions for Josef Centeno

February 18, 2013|By Jenn Harris
  • Josef Centeno is chef-owner of downtown restaurants Baco Mercat and Bar Ama.
Josef Centeno is chef-owner of downtown restaurants Baco Mercat and Bar… (Dylan Jeni Photography )

Josef Centeno is chef-owner of Bäco Mercat and the new Bar Amá downtown. The first is known for the bäco sandwich and eccentric small plates, and the other is where Centeno plays with his version of Tex-Mex. He may be a San Antonio boy, but Centeno pulls culinary influences from Morocco, Spain, the eastern Mediterranean and Mexico.

What’s coming up next on your menu? Spring goat. I grill it, then slow-roast it in the deck oven until it is tender but still has some chew — not falling off the bone like birria. It’s the way I had it growing up.

Latest ingredient obsession? Amaranth — they pop in a hot pan and crack and taste like rice crackers. And avocado leaves we use in stocks and for wrapping and steaming meats in. And I know it sounds kind of pedestrian, but rutabaga. I try to put a lot of vegetables on the Bäco menu, and I really like these diced and roasted — they’re sweet and have a great toothsome texture, and the edges get nicely browned and caramelized — served with a punchy salsa verde.

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? I don’t go out too much just because I don’t have the time. At Night + Market recently, I loved all the styles of larb I tried, including an Isan beef ceviche and duck larb. You can’t really go wrong there.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? The single French spatula because it’s so versatile.

Favorite kitchen soundtrack? The Strokes, Guided by Voices and Uncle Tupelo.

Bäco Mercat, 408 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-8808, www.bacomercat.com; Bar Amá, 118 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-8002, www.bar-ama.com.

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