Armando Gomez, chef de cuisine at the River Bar & Lounge, discusses his background, unique cooking style and favorite food.
By Katherine Duncan
When did you learn to cook?
I’m originally from Mexico City and went to culinary school there. … I’ve been around the kitchen all of my life with my mother and grandmother. They cooked for really large families so they always picked one of the grandsons or sons to help them, like cleaning the product we were cooking or putting the table together for all of the family to sit down and enjoy the meal.
Why did you want to become a professional chef?
I think the most important thing that drew me to this industry was the joy of seeing people together. I grew up eating with a large family, when everybody stopped what they were doing during the day and dedicated time to sharing the table. Being the center of that moment is really, really important for me.
How do you describe your personal cooking style?
I have worked in French restaurants much of my career, so I am really technique driven, with Latin accents. I also use a California style of cooking where it is very health-oriented. I try to make things very simple, but like to put those little accents that really make the ingredients pop.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the River Bar & Lounge’s menu?
The River Bar has become a hot spot at The Cloister with an interesting spin on bistro and brasserie cuisine. The inspiration for the food is rooted in French technique, bound with ingredients from the South and tossed with Mediterranean/Californian flair. The philosophy is simplicity brings greatness; simple food with a lot of texture and balance throughout the whole meal.
Are there any dishes on the menu that were inspired by your personal life?
Definitely. Right now we have something on the menu that is called spring vegetables. We [include] lentils, which, by the way, are my favorite thing ever—lentil salad, lentil soup, growing up with my mom I learned a hundred ways to cook lentils. … It reminds me of when I was at home, and that very specific way of cooking lentils that my mom taught me, I’m applying it to this dish. The only spin we took is using Moroccan spices. … I think we will keep that dish through the rest of the year but more likely by the fall, we’ll make it with fall vegetables.
What is your favorite dish at the River Bar?
We are well known for our Summit Burger. That has been a staple of the restaurant for the longest time. … People come back year after year asking for the same burger. We use prime beef, but the best part is we incorporate marinated portobellos and Boursin cheese on it. The preparation with the caramelized onions and Boursin cheese makes for a really good combination.
What do you enjoy most about your role at the River Bar?
I really love cooking. Being behind the stove, I think, is fundamental for a chef; it doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have. One of the best things that I have in my role is being able to teach someone what I know. Sharing the knowledge of the industry, at this level, is one of the most important things. I think it’s also a commitment because somebody took the challenge with me at one point in time, and now it’s my turn to give back to the younger generations. I have a sous-chef and two chefs de partie and I guide them through the process and I teach them how to fall in love with the process of becoming a chef, because it never ends.