Blending his Southern California roots with his French Mediterranean culinary training, Chef Juan Zaragoza incorporates elegantly bold flavors into showstopping dishes at Gracie’s. Recently, we met with Chef Zaragoza to learn more about the man behind the menu.
What influences did your childhood have on your cooking?
My mother and father were born in Baja, California. So, [I have] a lot of rich influences in Latin culture with bold flavors. My professional training was French Mediterranean. I like to do it right so that [the bold flavors] aren’t overpowering. And, now, I’m just letting an ingredient really shine.
What excites you most about Gracie’s in 2020?
I’ve been here for two years and I think the evolution of the cuisine has grown since I’ve arrived – the whole motto “simple done well” is a metaphor [I use] every time I’m making a dish. I think Gracie’s has a lot to offer, especially for dinner or breakfast.
What are a few of your favorite places to eat in Portland?
My number one is PhoVan on Southeast 82nd Avenue and the one in the Pearl. We also love going to Scotty’s Pizza, Apizza Scholls, Laurelhurst Market, and 808 because their Mai Thais are so good. I think it’s hard to have a bad meal in Portland. You can even get a gourmet meal from a food truck.
What would your last meal be?
My dad always made carne con chile… It’s almost a chile in a sense with meat. And, my grandma used to make these flour tortillas. So, I probably have carne con chile and house-made flour tortillas and then have a shrimp cocktail like what we’d get in Baja.
For dessert, I’d probably want this corre la crème my wife makes. It’s basically whipped cream with cream cheese and they put it over this heart shaped mold. It’s served with fresh raspberries and a raspberry compote or almost like a jam. So, I think it would have the best of everybody that’s touched my life. I think that’s what would be my going away meal and a bottle of Prosecco.