Serving fresh ingredients from a scratch kitchen
BY KRISTEN SCHRUM
At the age of 16, Marcos Sanchez worked his first restaurant job as a busboy. “But I would always watch the chefs,” he says, reflecting on the beginning of his culinary journey. “At some point, the chefs got tired of me always watching them, and they told me to just join the line.”
Since then, Sanchez has always found himself in the kitchen, moving up into management positions. After years of overseeing restaurants across the Southeast with companies such as Moonlight Management, Sanchez ended up at Tazza Kitchen, where, amid the clattering of chef knives and blazing roar of wood-fired ovens, his culinary team has spent the last six years putting their unique twists on America’s melting pot favorites.
Tazza Kitchen serves handcrafted burgers, wood-fired pizzas, braised meat tacos and a variety of fresh salads, in addition to more classically inspired main dishes. Overall, the restaurant staff is ready to serve anyone who walks through its doors.
“I like to say Tazza sort of has an identity crisis,” Sanchez laughs, referring to the restaurant’s versatile menu. “We’re not New American. We’re not Italian. We just cook good food.”
Tazza Kitchen may not have a fixed identity, but it does have a mission: to serve amazingly fresh food with artistry and creativity. To Sanchez, chefs are artists in their own right: Imagination, patience, hard work and skill are all required to create original, delicious entrees. Tazza Kitchen encourages artistry among its kitchen staff, and the resulting creative menu centered around fresh ingredients gives Tazza Kitchen an edge over competitors.
“You can have one of our pizzas anywhere else, but you can’t get the same taste because our ingredients are unique to us,” says Sanchez, who selects all of Tazza Kitchen’s ingredients from local produce vendors and small businesses. Sanchez recognizes that there is a drastic difference in the quality and taste of the food that is bought in-season. When bought out of season, even organic produce holds but a fraction of its authentic taste.
In addition, local farmers know their product and are aware of when it reaches optimum growth and taste, and they harvest accordingly—as opposed to corporations that harvest produce months before it is ripe in order to have the product ready for stores. Tazza Kitchen places great importance on sourcing its food from natural, fresh sources. From buffalo mozzarella made by BUF Creamery in Colombia, to locally sourced steaks from Seven Hills Food Company’s beef, Sanchez and his kitchen staff keep nothing frozen as part of their mission to create authentic, fresh dishes from scratch.
When asked about his own creative process, Sanchez always begins with the ingredients. “I like to see what’s fresh and in season,” he says. From there, he caters to his own palate, saying, “A lot of my dishes are things I would cook as a family meal for my team.”
Much of Sanchez’s culinary experience is rooted in Italian cuisine—using original ingredients and cooking in wood-fired ovens to transform typical Italian dishes, such as pizzas and chicken Marsala. His popular apple and goat cheese pizza is served alongside fresh red onion, arugula and black pepper honey. Sanchez has added an elevated twist to a typical baked salmon by cooking it within the brick oven beside earthy parsnip, hearty purple potatoes and rosemary cream cheese.
Tazza Kitchen shares recipes across its locations, so the menu becomes a harmonious blend of ideas from the head chefs at each location. Even the bartenders strive to put together cocktail menus that represent the restaurant’s fresh, unique concept. About three to four times a year, the kitchen and bar will roll out new menus that complement each other and the season, which is part of what creates the restaurant’s high-energy ambiance.
The bar and kitchen are both open-concept. Guests can see the bar’s beautiful array of cocktail ingredients and colorful glass bottles, as well as the kitchen’s wood-fired ovens and hard-working chefs. This type of “scratch cooking,” demonstrated with transparency and authenticity, builds Tazza Kitchen’s trust and rapport with its clientele. It’s a big part of why the restaurant has such a loyal customer base.
Farm-to-table and scratch-kitchen restaurants such as Tazza Kitchen rely on being able to trace each and every ingredient back to its origin. From there, chefs like Sanchez and his team lead the charge in creating amazingly fresh and unique dishes that can’t be replicated.
CHEF MARCOS SANCHEZ’S FLAN RECIPE
1 pound of cream cheese
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
12 ounces of evaporated milk
16 ounces of sweetened condensed milk
5 ounces of caramel sauce
• Cut the cream cheese into 1-inch pieces. When it reaches room temperature, add it to a mixing bowl. Slowly mix the cream cheese in a stand mixer until it’s smooth and free of lumps, for about 3–4 minutes. Scrape the mixture off the sides of the bowl halfway through with a spatula.
• Mix the eggs and vanilla together, then add the mixture to the cream cheese in three stages. Scrape the bowl well. Continue mixing it on medium speed for 10 minutes.
• While mixing, combine both milks in a large bowl and set the milks aside. When the cream cheese and egg mixture is ready, gently fold it into the milk.
• Portion ½ ounce of caramel sauce into 10 5-ounce ramekins, making sure the caramel sauce covers the entire bottom of each ramekin. Then top each with 4 ounces of the flan base.
• Place the ramekins into a shallow hotel pan, making sure to leave at least an inch of room between each one. Fill the pan halfway with hot tap water, making sure to not spill any water into the ramekins.
• Cover the hotel pan with foil and bake the ramekins at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake them for an additional 5 minutes. The flan is done when a toothpick can be inserted into the center and comes out clean.
• When finished, remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool them in the refrigerator. Store them in refrigeration until you are ready to serve them.