Chef Chat, Part 1: Charles Clark of Ibiza
EOW: You got started in the culinary field at a very early age. How did you realize that food was the career path for you?
Clark: Growing up in Louisiana, I went fishing a lot along the Sabine River. Most of the time, you wouldn't take your catch home but rather set up a burner out by the river and you would catch and actually cook it right there and eat beside the river. So that was my first experience cooking. Then I got a job in Lake Charles at a Chinese restaurant that had table-side service for rolling mushu pork and cutting Peking duck. That was my first real taste of working in restaurants and interacting with customers.
EOW: How did you go about refining your approach to offering a great dining experience?
Clark: I moved to Dallas, Texas right out of high school, and I got to work in some really nice restaurants. That was where I really got into the art of dining. Fine dining is an attitude in which I try to let my customers enjoy the experience as much as the food. Then I got to help chefs write menus. I have a knack for writing menus and putting concepts onto plates. And so I finally decided to go to culinary school when I was 34. I moved to Houston to attend the Art Institute of Houston. When I graduated, nobody was doing Spanish cuisine. So I wanted to make my dishes Spanish-influenced but with a little more modern flair. I still offer classics such as paella and sangria.
EOW: So besides the lack of competition, what made you focus on Spanish cuisine?
Clark: I love the Spanish cuisine because it's so rustic and real. Their day-to-day dishes were delicacies to me. You could find a whole roasted pig and grilled octopus at a bar, which they'll serve up with a little beer. I also fell in love with the laidback lifestyle.
Check back tomorrow to hear about Chef Clark's wanderings through Europe and his tips for immersing yourself in a local culture.