‘Top Chef’ Byron Gomez on delicacies, 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 new day, in his food-hall stall on Pearl Street in Boulder, he is savoring a thing less significant-brow, but oh-so-delightful. 

He calls it the “chicken oyster.” It is a moist little bit of meat concealed in a crevice guiding the spine of a rotisserie chicken that has rested overnight in Costa Rican spices in advance of currently being slathered in a taste-bud-shaking secret sauce known as Salsa Lizano.

That little bit of food stuff that delivers him these types of pleasure serves as a image for a wildly strange culinary career that has taken Gomez on a full-circle foodie journey in his 34 a long time.

It commenced in a modest relatives kitchen in Costa Rica where by, as a toddler, he savored his indigenous country’s foodstuff so a lot that he would sneak out of his bed to slumber on the kitchen flooring. 

Hop from there to a Burger King in Long Island where his loved ones had immigrated when he was nine. Gomez was as well shy to be fantastic at the counter, but he was moved into foods prep since he was an great tomato slicer. 

Shift on to developing fragile dishes at Michelin-starred high-quality-dining places to eat owned by a world-renowned chef in New York Metropolis. Toss in a stint on the culinary competitiveness Prime Chef.

 All that winds lastly to Pollo Tico, Gomez’s quickly-casual, self-explained “chicken joint” in the Avanti Boulder food stuff hall.

“This introduces my lifestyle and who I am,” Gomez instructed Colorado Issues host Ryan Warner through a check out to Gomez’s very small Lizano-bottle-lined kitchen. 

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

Chef Byron Gomez Pollo TicoRyan Warner/CPR Information
Salsa Lizano is an component staple at Pollo Tico in Boulder.

Gomez’s time on Top Chef

These were being not the meals that Gomez toiled about when he was a finalist on Time 18 of Best Chef, a brutal levels of competition where by the cooks used 18 hrs a day sweating above food stuff challenges and the rest of the time totally closed absent from a planet in the thick of a pandemic. 

As a Top rated Chef finalist, Gomez confirmed off his culinary chops realized in major-culinary-world dining places, together with Cafe Boulad and Eleven Madison Park. He geared up a crab dish, a surf and turf entre, a pasta dish seasoned with espresso. 

The closest he got to his indigenous delicacies was a Peruvian hen dish. He is nonetheless kicking himself for people selections.

“I was viewing the clearly show at household with my bowl of ice product and yelling at the Television, asking ‘Why did you do that?’”

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

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

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

Sunday dinners with household

That response lay in his reminiscences of the massive Sunday dinners his relatives would have in Costa Rica. His mother was effectively-identified for her cooking competencies, and friends and kinfolk would get at the Gomez house for foods. 

The women of all ages would be cooking up a feast in the kitchen area. The adult men would be watching soccer as they waited for the meal. And Gomez would be gravitating to the kitchen.

When his family members migrated to Very long Island, the Sunday feasts continued in an altered type. His loved ones couldn’t get all their native foodstuff, and what they could get did not style the exact same. Continue to, other Costa Ricans would gravitate to the Gomez residence and pack in for Sunday gatherings.

Gomez’s eventual mentor, Daniel Boulad, the Michelin-starred chef he however calls “papa,” assisted him to know those gatherings had been in which his culinary dreams may well lay. He had instilled in him the notion that he really should usually proceed to check the restrictions of his ability and creativeness.

Gomez landed a task at Café Boulad by highlighting his perform ethic and need to study. He had no official culinary schooling, except if prepping burgers and cooking ethnic dishes at a mom-and-pop café counted. But he had the generate and expertise and, immediately after stewing around distributing an application for a thirty day period, he was rewarded.

He spent five decades working underneath Boulad. He describes it as a stress-cooker existence related to the Hulu culinary drama “The Bear,” or to the late Anthony Bourdain’s portrayal of often hellish operating conditions in the guide “Kitchen Private.”

Chef Byron Gomez Pollo TicoRyan Warner/CPR Information
Chef Byron Gomez working on food prep in Pollo Tico.

The following Shake Shack?

As his have boss now, Gomez nonetheless is effective really hard, but can consider time to hit the health and fitness center each and every day and to surface on the circuit of food stuff festivals. 

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

Also on tap in Gomez’ journey is a fantastic-dining cellular eating place principle that he brainstormed about in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It’s a principle that he said will “flip the rood truck issue on its head.”

He also has plans to open additional Pollo Ticos. In point, he is considering major about that, too. He believes Pollo Tico could grow to be the subsequent Shake Shack — as soon as patrons figure out that his cafe is not Pollo Taco, and that Costa Rican meals is quite various from omnipresent Mexican cuisine.

“My obligation is to convey the splendor of who we are to this state,” he reported.

Gallo Pinto

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