Jonas Favela’s Grill Lessons
Getting extra savor from your summer cooking
Photos by Shannon Cornman
Jonas Favela can juggle. In fact, when asked what hobbies or interests he has outside of being a chef, he lists his car, art and juggling in that order. Certainly, it’s a good skill for a chef – not the “chainsaws in the air” kind of juggling, but the “keeping orders straight at expo” variety.
The Las Vegas native split time between Moore and Vegas growing up. He describes his childhood food experiences as a blend of his mother’s Midwestern staples and comfort food with his father’s Mexican traditions – picture two streams flowing into one dinner table. His style in adulthood is a function of that upbringing, combining flavors and ingredients from his family’s separate traditions.
“My style is fusion,” he says. “I hate the word, but it’s a good descriptor. There’s a lot of Latin influence to my style, and my cooking also reflects my love of French, Italian and Asian cuisine and techniques.”
“My mother’s mother made great pastries, and I started trying to recreate them when I was about 10,” Favela says. “Because my father was Mexican, we also ate a lot of tacos, tortillas, tamales and homemade salsas.” Fresh salsa is still one of his favorites. “My salsa is basic but it has to have tomatoes – of course – onions, jalapeños or habaneros, cilantro is a must, fresh squeezed lime juice and salt.”
We talked to him about summer grilling, and he eschews rules of thumb in favor of his instincts.
“For me it is instinctual,” he says. “I get asked this question a lot, and I never have a good answer. I go for color, smell and marks.”
Rules of thumb are difficult for grilling because there are so many factors to take into account: gas or charcoal, thickness of the cut, type of fish, location on the grill, temperature, wood smoke or not … many variables make hard-and-fast rules impossible to nail down. Occasionally, trial and error is the only method, and it’s an approach with which Favela is pretty comfortable. He called his food education “the school of hard knocks.”
“I’ve known what I want to do since I was 9,” he says. “I started the apprenticeship program at Coach House, but didn’t finish. I still wish I had. I’ve always wanted to work with the best chefs available.”
With turns at The Metro, Ranch Steakhouse and Flint, among others, Favela has certainly fulfilled that wish, and as the executive chef at Meat Market Refectory, he’s in a great position to continue sharing his culinary style.
► Grill Talk
Rather than give us a specific recipe this month, we asked Favela to give us some advice and suggestions on backyard grilling. A dizzying amount of information is already available online, so we asked him to skip past some of the standard grilling advice, such as using your hand to determine a steak’s doneness.
Seafood “I like to stick to salmon, dry pack jumbo scallops, sea bass, shrimp, lobster and halibut. Don’t flip fish too soon or it will stick, all fish. And although it’s a little tired, there is nothing wrong with cedar plank grilling.”
The Grill “Get a good quality grill – that seems basic – but thick, heavy grates matter, and make sure they’re properly seasoned, too.” Seasoning grates is similar to seasoning cast iron: Apply a cooking oil evenly to all the grates, and then heat the grill until the oil cooks off. Regular seasoning helps the grill cook more evenly, and makes it easier to clean.
Location “You can put pretty much everything over direct heat, but after it’s properly marked, you need to move it to the edges for more even cooking.”
Vegetables “Marinate them first! Use an herb blend you like, and I add garlic, oil and a touch of vinegar.” While EVOO is very popular, it has a strong flavor. If you don’t want to taste it, use standard olive oil, not EVOO, for marinating and cooking.
Wood smoke “I put wood chips in a foil pouch directly over the heat. It will give the food a slightly smoky flavor. I use apple and cherry wood only, because I like the smell of those two. It’s a matter of preference for each person, really.”