When Jose Castillo was a young boy in Mexico, he’d spend time in the kitchen watching his mom prepare food for him and his seven siblings on a limited budget and with limited supplies. He marveled at how his mom created satisfying and delicious meals, and that image filled his soul as well as his stomach.
Now The Gables at Chadds Ford’s executive chef, Jose hearkens back to when he came to the United States at age nine. His dad had been living and working here so that, one by one, he could bring the entire family to America. He worked fields, did landscaping and toiled in Toughkenamon’s mushroom houses. Back in Mexico, his mom opened a little food stand outside their house. Jose’s siblings helped prep food — including handmade tortillas — while Jose delivered the takeout orders. These are lessons in hard work that Jose will never forget, lessons that fuel his lifelong pursuit of excellence.
“I think of my parents, and how they worked and sacrificed — a lot — so I could have the opportunity to pursue what I wanted to do,” Jose said. “I’m so grateful, and because of them, I keep pushing myself to go further and further. Both my parents worked hard to give us a better life.”
Jose has come far since his culinary school days at YTI Career Institute. He worked nights at the Mendenhall Inn after being in school all day. He started there as a banquet server, then moved into the kitchen to help with banquet prep. He began to move through the ranks with stints at Kennett Steak and Mushroom Restaurant, going from sauté to kitchen supervisor and producing the daily specials. His catering experience came in handy at Aramark at Widener University School of Law; Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library and Longwood Gardens.
“A great chef once told me, ‘Don’t ask for a raise; ask for responsibility,’” Jose noted. Clearly, he took that advice to heart.
Jose’s responsibilities continued to grow as sous chef at St. Joseph’s University, where he managed the kitchen staff for residential dining and catering. He then became chef manager at the University of Delaware’s Goodstay Center, overseeing a conference center, the cafe and large events.
As luck would have it (for us!), Jose started with us part-time on weekends. The rest is Gables history.
“Working at those other venues helped me learn a lot about time management, sanitation, food cost, portion control and the other crucial things that make a restaurant run well,” Jose said. “What our customers will see is that I’m upholding The Gables’ good name for quality and professionalism while putting my own spin on the menu.”
One of Jose’s passions is gardening, which he learned from his father. Fans of our rooftop garden’s fresh produce will be delighted to know that Jose will bring those talents to bear because “fresher is better.” In his precious little spare time, he also enjoys landscaping and hanging out with his dog, Chewie (as in Star Wars’ Chewbacca, not a chew toy!). During warm weather, he also likes to tend to his koi pond.
“It’s something to come home to after a long, busy day,” he explained. “Grab a Captain and ginger, sit by the pond and relax.”
You’ll also find Jose cooking at home, of course! He likes to keep it simple, going back to his Mexican roots but adding a twist.
“I like to mix in a little Mexican with Spanish and Italian,” he said. “So I might make Spanish meatballs, finish them with marinara and top it all with Cotija cheese.”
His favorite Gables menu item? The 12-ounce, dry-aged New York strip steak.
“The flavor is more intense, but the meat is very tender,” he explained. “We butcher it in-house and it’s dry aged for 28 days. Perfect!”
Although Jose’s journey to executive chef began in his mother’s kitchen, he’s grateful to The Gables for the opportunities in our kitchen.
“I must give thanks to owner Ann Kolenick for giving me the opportunity to share and practice my craft at her restaurant,” he said.
We welcome you to come visit soon and savor new twists on Gables classics — thanks to executive chef Jose!
The Gables at Chadds Ford is nestled in the heart of the historic Brandywine Valley. Our combination of fresh seasonal cuisine, rustic yet elegant charm and enchanting outdoor dining will keep you coming back time and time again. The Gables is also the perfect venue to host your next special event, whether you are planning a wedding, rehearsal dinner, baby shower or corporate event.
Photos: The Gables at Chadds Ford