Six Questions with Executive Chef Hector Cruz

Hector Cruz, who is from Mexico City, started at Jocque Concepts in 2008 and now works as the company’s executive chef, overseeing Chop Shop, Diego Pops, The Montauk, The Hot Chick, and Eat Up Drive In. Although he doesn’t do much cooking these days, he creates new menu items and makes sure all concepts are ready to go. How does it keep track of all those formats? “I have a responsible person in every restaurant and I communicate with them daily.” That’s what Cruz says.

What is your process for coming up with new menu items?
I think of what was trendy, as it was several years ago, was the turnip. So I try to invent items like this. We do a product (review) once a year and see what’s selling and what’s not. Whatever doesn’t sell out, we replace it with new ones. Sometimes people go crazy. At Diego Pops we used to have grilled chicken tacos and it never sold. We removed it and received a lot of complaints. Now, I have another taco that sells more and customers love it.

How did growing up in Mexico City contribute to cooking?
I use some of the original recipes I’ve been eating since I was a kid in Mexico, like eskets, corn in the cup. In Mexico they sell eskets in the street. At Diego Pops we have corn queso which is made from corn and epazote (an aromatic herb). I use ingredients like these to recreate original recipes. I grew up eating pastor tacos in Mexico and green chile chicken. My mother used to make me these fried tacos with green chile chicken. At Diego Pops, this is one of our best selling tacos.

What do you cook on your days off?
I bring dinner with my 14 year old daughter most nights. We cook everything. I teach her how to make all sauces from scratch and eggs any way. I want to teach her everything. She loves him. When she’s at her mom’s house, she sends me pictures of the food she makes and says, “Look at that daddy, I think mine is better than yours!”

If you could choose one item to eat from any of your layouts, what would it be?
I love the spicy chick sandwich at The Hot Chick and Eat Up. It’s a wonderful sandwich. The recipe is very complicated. We use two different types of seasoned flour. There are probably 25 ingredients in that sandwich. It’s an intricate flour for an easy sandwich.

Who inspires you?
My daughter. I do everything with her. When I make a new item, she is the first to try it. She went through everything with me, opened restaurants, made menus and tasted recipes. Want to be an actress or singer?

What advice would you give a rookie chef?
Just comment it there. Cooking takes a lot of time. If you are going to be a chef in a restaurant, you have to be in the restaurant all the time. Put your heart in it. Until six years ago, I didn’t have Christmas or any holidays with my family. This is when we work. Weekends, holidays and nights. But in the end, if you love food, this is the place for you.

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