Garcia's Chef Lanny Lancarte II '97 proves when it comes to nouvelle cuisine,
you can come home again.
June Naylor '79
ceviche is hardly among the dishes you'd expect to find at a dinner at
Joe T. Garcia's. Nor is the Fort Worth temple of Tex-Mex food a destination
you'd consider for duck breast over butternut mole, but these are typical
of the surprises served in the restaurant's elegant La Casita dining room.
For this sort of diversion from the Joe T.'s enchilada-fajita norm, you
just have to ask the right Lancarte to cook for you.
white chef's coat and hovering above an azure glass plate, Lanny P. Lancarte
II '97 arranges delicate slivers of microchives just so atop a scallop
shell. The shell cradles a small piece of outrageously expensive Tai snapper,
and the detailed work makes Lancarte focus every ounce of his attention
on making this amuse bouche plate an artful study.
telling him he should be having fun, but look at him. He's really intense,"
says his dad, Lanny Lancarte, who oversees operations at Joe T.'s.
-- who, at 28 years old and 6-foot-2, has nearly given the childhood nickname
of "Little Lanny" the slip -- shakes his head and flashes a quick grin.
The work is fun, he insists. But when dinner-party hosts are paying up
to $70 per person, the product had better be done right. The dinner at
hand is for a youngish supper-club group of 18 that is lapping up one
of the tasting menus of seven to 10 courses that have rapidly become the
signature work of the Joe T.'s scion.
to Fort Worth upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in
New York a year ago, Lancarte -- the first in four generations of the restaurant
family to ever take a cooking lesson -- has prepared his tasting-menu dinners
for an impressive coterie of clientele. To spread word of his nouvelle
Mexican cuisine, and to prepare for eventually opening his own bistro,
Lancarte produces lavishly wrought creations in petite portions. This
tasting-menu style of dining, which has become the rage at Charlie Trotter's
in Chicago and Morimoto in Philadelphia, allows guests to sample a wide
variety of flavors, which Lancarte often pairs with wines.
groups sampling his work in the past year have eaten braised beef short
ribs atop an apricot mole, antelope carpaccio with pasilla-citrus vinaigrette,
and tequila-cured rock hen with basil chimichurri. Although the creations
seem complicated, the flavors are so carefully wrought that they resonate
with clarity. In his dish of goat-cheese-stuffed huitlacoche (a delicate
corn fungus, much likeFcadf a truffle) ravioli, Lancarte adds an heirloom
corn salad and places the pairing in a shallow pool of corn nage, or broth
that bursts with fresh, sweet corn essence.
this, Lancarte combines the best seasonal products he can locate -- even
having items shipped from overseas -- with pure Mexican cooking and classical
Mexican food lets me put different techniques and cuisines I've learned
with authentic ingredients to present those ingredients in a new way,"
such as Edward P. Bass, have found Lancarte's dinners worth a return visit.
"A seven-course meal with Lanny in the beautiful [dining] room at Joe
T.'s ranks as one of the all-time great culinary experiences in Fort Worth,"
says Bass. "Lanny's marriage of French cuisine with indigenous Mexican
tradition is truly magical."
Lancarte II, the great-grandson of founder Joe T. Garcia, is central to
events at Joe T.'s surprises no one, but it wasn't until four years ago
that he investigated cooking for a living. Lancarte grew up at the restaurant,
spending days since babyhood chatting in Spanish with Mamasus, the widow
of Joe T., who baby-sat her great-grandchildren at her apartment at the
restaurant while making pots of Joe T.'s famous red enchilada gravy.
"If I wanted
to see my parents, it was here at the restaurant," says Lancarte, referring
to a spread that can now seat 1,000 patrons when all the gardens and private
rooms are in use. "I had two tables in the front room to wait on by the
time I was 8."
in Spanish and food management at TCU, Lancarte joined the restaurant
as a manager. Within two or three years, he was running the front of the
house. He began to read newsletters that advertised cooking study in Mexico
and finally made the leap in 1999. In Oaxaca, he met Diana Kennedy, the
person who made the most profound impression on his culinary mind.
"I had made
dishes from her cookbooks, and finally I was getting to meet her," says
Lancarte. "She sat at a table full of ingredients, and she was so passionate
about every last tomato and chile. The way she approached every single
item made me understand that if you don't have respect for the food, it
won't come out the way it should."
irony, of course, is that Lancarte would connect so readily and deeply
with Kennedy, who has made no secret of her disdain for Tex-Mex food --
the very stuff for which Lancarte's family has become famous.
he could cook but was bothered that he didn't have classical training.
Culinary school was the answer, and at the Culinary Institute of America,
his passion won him praise.
was the type of student who always tried to achieve flavor, and he has
a passion that few of us in the restaurant business have," says Fred
Brash, an institute chef-instructor who taught Lancarte in the school's
St. Andrew's Cafe. "He's willing to do what it takes, so I'm not
surprised that he's taking his family business to a new level."
into his schooling, Lancarte got a big boost in his hands-on training
by landing an externship at Rick Bayless' famous Chicago restaurants.
He worked day and night in the kitchen for six months.
Lanny grew up with Mexican food and culture, he left what he knew at the
door and was really open to suggestions," says Brian Enyart, managing
sous chef for Bayless at Frontera and Topolobampo.
after graduation in August 2002, Lancarte visited restaurant friends in
Chicago and was offered a head line-cook job at Frontera. He called his
dad in Fort Worth with the news.
it's time to come home, but I had to tell him that I enjoy the restaurant
management but my heart's in the kitchen," Lancarte says. "I had to do
my kind of food, and that meant [to come home] I had to have my own kitchen."
"We built that kitchen and put a Virgen de Guadalupe on top of the door
and he was on his way," said his dad. Soon the pretty new kitchen with
the jade-green tile was filled with contemporary plates in varying shapes
and colors. The pantry and coolers were stocked with ingredients heretofore
unknown to the kitchens at the 70-year-old institution, among them blood
oranges, duck confit, huitlacoche, pepitas, pistachios, panko, annato
seeds and epazote.
general manager Adam Jones has had Lancarte do two parties for friends
and for the steakhouse employees. Jones praised the special touches, such
as new flatware and plate styles for each course. "I love the course-driven
idea, because it's all about taste and enjoyment, and not about getting
stuffed," says Jones.
and his kitchen crew work in an assembly line to properly arrange each
crumb, dollop and fresh flower or herb accent, while servers dressed in
ankle-length black aprons and starched white shirts with cabernet-colored
neckties stand back and watch, ready to take trays to La Casita.
has trained the servers to know the food; he works with them on the various
flatware selections and serving from the left and clearing plates from
the right. "Atmosphere is about the whole experience, and every aspect
is important, from the candles to the light to the tablecloths."
his tamales, stuffed with duck confit and steamed within banana leafs,
he unwraps one for a visitor. "The smell that comes when you open them
creates another aspect to the dish," he says, smiling, holding it like
it was a baby bird. "I love opening it up -- the aroma makes me feel like
I'm in a market in Mexico."
dish, there's a work in contrast, such as the dessert crepes that he made
for the recent supper-club visit. The garnish of an intense, blooming
peppermint sprig slices a freshness into the plate's musty comfort of
goat cheese and cajeta. His guests roll their eyes with pleasure.
plenty of places in town where you can eat good food, but tonight I've
had 10 things I've never tasted. This is really special," says John Holt
Smith of Fort Worth.
dad beams as he watches his son, happy that it has come to this. "In my
kitchen, everything is crazy, but in Lanny's kitchen there's such balance
and imagination," says the elder Lancarte. "To have it all under the same
roof and to have the dream of my grandmother and grandfather still going
is really neat."
is well aware that the son wants to open his own place, something with
no more than 60 seats, in the next couple of years. He knows these tasting-menu
dinners are about menu testing.
are flapping, and he'll leave the nest," Lancarte says. "I'm just trying
to hold on as long as I can." Until then, Lanny II insists he's having
fun -- or as much fun as he will allow himself.
doing brain surgery here, but I want to touch every plate before it goes
out," he says. "I've got to stay focused the whole way, then open a beer
after the last dessert is served."
tasting-menu dinners are available by reservation only. Prices range from
about $35 to $70 per person, depending on the menu. Add about $20 per
person for wine. Call him at Joe T. Garcia's at 817-626-4356.