Ivan Alvarez, who owns Grill Creations in Garwood with his wife, Janet and daughter Estephanie, are passionate about their healthy Mexican and Latin American cuisine. We chatted with Ivan to get the scoop on how he serves up his tasty food without a deep fryer in sight.
Patch: Tell us about your restaurant?
Alvarez: We've been here a little over a year. We feel very happy and blessed to have the community supporting us. They have welcomed us here. Our restaurant is Mexican Gourmet. Latinos say "comida casera," which means homemade food. It not only tastes good but is healthy.
Patch: Where did you learn to cook? Any influences?
Alvarez: My father cooked for me as I was growing up in El Salvador. He worked here in America and cooked Italian food. He would come back on vacation and cook all kinds of things. I was impressed because in El Salvador only women cooked. My mom and grandmother cooked all the time, but it was always something new when my dad cooked.
Patch: Are there any favorite dishes you loved as a child that you cook here in the restaurant?
Alvarez: The rice and beans and tostadas that my grandma used to make for us is what I serve here in the restaurant. I also make a baked chimichanga that everyone loves and it's one of my favorites on the menu. (made with rice, beans, pico de gallo, melted jack and cheddar cheese, homemade roasted tomato sauce and choice of chicken, steak, scallops, salmon, ground beef or shrimp $9.75-$12.75)
Patch: What is it about your chimichanga that everyone loves?
Alvarez: A chimichanga that any other restaurant would serve is deep fried. It's like a deep fried burrito. Here it's baked. We don't even have a fryer here. Health-wise, it's better and customers find it different. A delicious light chimichanga not fried. I serve it with a homemade sauce made with fresh plum tomatoes and chipotle pepper that's either sweet, medium or hot. Many Mexican restaurants make everything on their menu spicy. We don't make it spicy unless you ask for it. We like our fresh flavors to come through on their own.
Patch: Healthy eating is very important to you. Do you think this is the future of Mexican cuisine?
Alvarez: Here in America, this is the future of Latin-Mexican food. I've been in the restaurant business for a long time — 23 years. Every day you learn something. I never really got into healthy food until the last five years. It's amazing. You don't have to fry food or use a lot of butter, and we don't use any at Grill Creations, to make a great dish. Even washing the dishes is easier because there is no grease. Today, it's really about how much we know and then doing what's right.