Victor Parra Gonzalez owns Las Puertas, a small unassuming restaurant on the West Side’s Rhode Island Street. He mixes Acapulco-based influences (from where he grew up) with classic French technique for what Buffalo News food critic Andrew Galarneau says will “take you to a world you’ve never tasted.”
The 30-year-old is perhaps Buffalo’s most-buzzed about chef du jour, having been named a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist as well as a recent write-up in the New York Times.
How did you get interested in food?
When I was born, my mother had a restaurant in the bottom of our house. The notion of having people over and entertaining is what originally caught my eye. I like to have the buzz around. By my teenage years I spoke English and French, and Acapulco is a place where restaurants and bars are popular places to work if you can speak more than one language. I then decided to go for the fine dining aspect and moved to Montreal to study culinary arts.
Is there something you love to prepare most?
I love preparing ceviches. I grew up by the beach, and between school and work I would squeeze in the occasional surf session or scuba session…we always had ceviche around. I started working my way around fish in culinary school after my professor from Paris told me I was a disgrace for every little fish that ever crossed my hand. I made it a point to learn everything about the water creatures and now I work relentlessly on ceviche recipes for weeks before they hit the table.
Why a tasting menu rather than a consistent, standard menu?
Tasting menus are a transaction of trust. Since I started working in fine dining restaurants in Montreal I became addicted to dining this way. The question is how much do you trust your chef? Do you give your night fully to the experience or do you decide you have to stay in control? On the other hand, the chef questions what story to tell. Do you have enough material to offer guests something truly delicious that will make them happy?
In my case, it was an obvious progression. Las Puertas was my fifth restaurant in Buffalo and the 13th restaurant I have opened. If I was going to take a chance, it was here.
What did the James Beard nomination mean to you?
Not only did it justify our every choice, but also gave us permission to dare to reach further into our Mexican roots and to showcase that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Mexican food.
Favorite place to eat when you’re not cooking?
Typically I spend my days off with my little one so we go to places where she can try new things. Seabar is among my favorites. More often than not I am at The Dapper Goose and Ballyhoo. But there are so many chefs and owners doing incredible things, it is hard to have a bad meal.
Do you cook on your days off?
I refuse to cook on my day off. I have a hard time only cooking for one person or two, so in order to save money and not waste ingredients I go out for a meal and have coffee and toast in the morning.
Having lived in Acapulco and Montreal, how do you feel about Buffalo?
I call Buffalo my second home so much so that I have a huge Buffalo tattooed on my arm. I feel this energy in the city the same way I felt when I walked into Montreal in 2006. Everyone and everything was cool.