What does it take to excel in the Culinary Arts? Chef Henry Salgado, of “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” can narrow it down to one word: Sacrifice. “It takes a lot of sacrifice to follow your passion, to realize your dreams. The success of your career depends upon the amount of sacrifice you are willing to make for it.”
A 5th generation Floridian of Cuban-Spanish origin on his father’s side and Atlanta, Georgia natives on his mother’s side, Chef Henry attended Culinary school and apprenticed in South Florida, where he learned from and worked alongside many wonderful chefs.
His journeys took him to California, Seattle, Washington, and eventually landed him in Atlanta, Georgia, where he enjoyed “catching up” with his relatives. His time in Atlanta set the stage for his life in two ways; first, he met the woman who would become his wife, and second, he worked under and learned from one of the “Culinary Legends” in the area, Miss Edna Lewis. “Miss Edna Lewis is the Guru of Southern Cooking, and it was an amazing time working under and learning from her, both her and her protege, Scott Peacock, who was a personal chef for 2 Georgia governors.”
“Chef Miss Edna was part of the New York food scene, she knew James Beard, and was actually there, was part of the ‘Culinary Revolution’ that changed American cooking.” Just being around someone who had cooked alongside the likes of Julia Child and other heavy-hitters in the Culinary Pantheon is one thing, but having them see something special in you and cultivating it is another thing, altogether. “A turning point for me was the moment I overheard Miss Edna remarking to another chef that I was a ‘natural.’ That really hit home, it was a turning point for me… I knew it was time to get serious with my career.”
The opportunity to “get back to Florida” arrived in what Chef Henry describes as a “horrible little diner” that his wife found in a local real estate magazine while they were traveling through New Smyrna, Florida. “I had a Cuban concept for a restaurant, ‘The Spanish River Grill.’ My wife found this small restaurant for sale and encouraged me to take a look. I thought she was crazy, but she had all these great ideas about how to make it work, and on the drive back to Atlanta, I had procured the money to purchase and get it ready to open. It took a lot of effort, but what started out as an idea to surf during the day and then cook dinner for people at night turned into ‘fine dining’ in New Smyrna… go figure!”
Expansion became the vision for the future, “We were looking at places in Colorado and California, but then I realized, why not Orlando? It is close and has the clientele and resources to build a successful business.” Wanting to base the restaurant on traditional Spanish cuisine, Chef Henry researched and studied the history and culture of Spain’s Basque Country. “After visiting the Basque region, I became very inspired, it is a fantastic place where ‘food’ is the center of the universe.” Txokos is a Basque tradition, and is based on the gastronomic societies that honor the meal itself, the act of sharing it, and so the “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” was born.
“Txokos Basque Kitchen is the closest thing to being in Basque, Northern Spain, without being there… I am very involved in the local farmer’s markets, getting the freshest foods and ingredients from local Florida farmers. For us here at ’Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen,’ it is all about the technique, the journey, the flavors of the foods, the presentation and appreciation of the experience and pleasure of the guests. Just like in Basque, Spain, once you dine with us, you are no longer a customer, you are family!”
When asked what makes a successful chef, Chef Henry doesn’t hesitate on his reply, “Be willing to sacrifice. Nothing is free, it takes hard work, it takes research, it takes reading as many books and trade magazines as possible and paying attention. You have to be willing to sacrifice your weekends, your off time, your personal life. It is not easy… but it is worth it.”
Whatever your meal or occasion, be sure to stop by “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” in the East End Market at 3201 Corrine Dr, Orlando, FL 32803, and have a cold gin & tonic and try the delicious food. Chef Henry knows you will be back to dine with your new Basque family!