‘Top Chef’ Byron Gomez on cuisine, culture and bringing Costa Rica to Colorado with Pollo Tico

Byron Gomez has well prepared haute delicacies in some of this country’s greatest dining establishments. But on a the latest working day, in his foods-hall stall on Pearl Avenue in Boulder, he is savoring something less high-brow, but oh-so-mouth watering. 

He calls it the “chicken oyster.” It is a moist bit of meat concealed in a crevice guiding the spine of a rotisserie chicken that has rested right away in Costa Rican spices prior to currently being slathered in a taste-bud-shaking secret sauce termed Salsa Lizano.

That little bit of food items that delivers him these kinds of joy serves as a image for a wildly uncommon culinary job that has taken Gomez on a full-circle foodie journey in his 34 years.

It began in a modest loved ones kitchen area in Costa Rica wherever, as a toddler, he savored his indigenous country’s meals so much that he would sneak out of his mattress to sleep on the kitchen area ground. 

Hop from there to a Burger King in Prolonged Island the place his household had immigrated when he was nine. Gomez was also shy to be excellent at the counter, but he was moved into food items prep because he was an superb tomato slicer. 

Transfer on to constructing sensitive dishes at Michelin-starred fantastic-eating places to eat owned by a entire world-well-known chef in New York Metropolis. Throw in a stint on the culinary levels of competition Best Chef.

 All that winds last but not least to Pollo Tico, Gomez’s quick-everyday, self-described “chicken joint” in the Avanti Boulder food hall.

“This introduces my lifestyle and who I am,” Gomez advised Colorado Issues host Ryan Warner in the course of a take a look at to Gomez’s little Lizano-bottle-lined kitchen. 

The chicken is served up with Costa Rica’s most recognizable dishes — arroz con pollo (rooster and rice), gallo pinto (beans and rice), maduros (fried green plantains), and chayote escabeche (pickled squash). Salsa Lizano goes on everything.

Ryan Warner/CPR News
Salsa Lizano is an component staple at Pollo Tico in Boulder.

Gomez’s time on Prime Chef

These have been not the food items that Gomez toiled about when he was a finalist on Year 18 of Prime Chef, a brutal level of competition the place the cooks spent 18 several hours a working day perspiring more than food challenges and the rest of the time fully closed absent from a earth in the thick of a pandemic. 

As a Leading Chef finalist, Gomez showed off his culinary chops learned in leading-culinary-world restaurants, together with Cafe Boulad and Eleven Madison Park. He prepared a crab dish, a surf and turf entre, a pasta dish seasoned with coffee. 

The closest he bought to his indigenous cuisine was a Peruvian rooster dish. He is still kicking himself for all those selections.

“I was looking at the present at property with my bowl of ice product and yelling at the Tv set, inquiring ‘Why did you do that?’”

It was that anger about not highlighting his ethnicity that led him back to his roots.

“I experienced the most Michelin stars of anybody in the cast,” he said. “But I recognized I was cooking other people’s cuisines. All people else was rooted in ethnicity, but I was still left inquiring, ‘Well, what am I?’”

Chef Byron Gomez Pollo TicoRyan Warner/CPR News
Byron Gomez owns Pollo Tico in Boulder, featuring Costa Rican-styled rotisserie rooster.

Sunday dinners with household

That reply lay in his recollections of the massive Sunday dinners his family would have in Costa Rica. His mom was perfectly-recognised for her cooking techniques, and mates and family would obtain at the Gomez residence for foods. 

The gals would be cooking up a feast in the kitchen. The gentlemen would be seeing soccer as they waited for the food. And Gomez would be gravitating to the kitchen.

When his household migrated to Lengthy Island, the Sunday feasts continued in an altered type. His family members could not get all their indigenous foods, and what they could get didn’t style the exact same. Continue to, other Costa Ricans would gravitate to the Gomez dwelling and pack in for Sunday gatherings.

Gomez’s eventual mentor, Daniel Boulad, the Michelin-starred chef he continue to calls “papa,” helped him to know those gatherings ended up in which his culinary goals could lay. He had instilled in him the notion that he need to often keep on to exam the limits of his skill and creativity.

Gomez landed a task at Café Boulad by highlighting his function ethic and need to discover. He experienced no formal culinary teaching, until prepping burgers and cooking ethnic dishes at a mom-and-pop café counted. But he experienced the push and talent and, just after stewing more than distributing an software for a month, he was rewarded.

He used five a long time doing the job below Boulad. He describes it as a force-cooker existence identical to the Hulu culinary drama “The Bear,” or to the late Anthony Bourdain’s portrayal of from time to time hellish functioning conditions in the e book “Kitchen Confidential.”

Chef Byron Gomez Pollo TicoRyan Warner/CPR News
Chef Byron Gomez performing on food prep in Pollo Tico.

The next Shake Shack?

As his have manager now, Gomez nonetheless performs difficult, but can acquire time to hit the health club just about every working day and to seem on the circuit of food items festivals. 

He will be at Food items & Wine festivals in Aspen and Charleston, South Carolina, this summertime. He hopes to safe an additional slot on Best Chef.

Also on tap in Gomez’ journey is a wonderful-dining mobile dining room principle that he brainstormed about during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It’s a concept that he stated will “flip the rood truck matter on its head.”

He also has designs to open a lot more Pollo Ticos. In actuality, he is considering large about that, too. He believes Pollo Tico could develop into the upcoming Shake Shack — as before long as patrons figure out that his restaurant is not Pollo Taco, and that Costa Rican food items is quite diverse from omnipresent Mexican delicacies.

“My obligation is to bring the elegance of who we are to this nation,” he reported.

Gallo Pinto