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Food & Family

Chef Galo Gomez treats guests to a home-cooked meal and an exotic culinary journey with every plate

By Wendy Gillett

Photo by Guy W. Kitchens

Chef Galo Gomez in his kitchen, his family of

 

rom early on in life, Chef Galo Gomez, owner and executive chef at Café Bariloche in downtown Ventura, has demonstrated an obvious knack for cooking. However, he modestly refuses to take credit for any of his own culinary prowess. The skills he shows off in the kitchen, the chef proudly explains, were inherited from his mother, Isabel. She was the owner of several successful bakeries in Ecuador, where Galo was born and raised. When he was 19, his mother sold those bakeries to raise the money she would need to move herself and her five children to America. She has been an inspiration to Galo in the kitchen and beyond ever since. “My mother’s cooking was a big influence on me,” he says, “and I relied on her advice a lot, throughout everything … She is my hero.”

Named after a small city in Argentina, Café Bariloche consistently serves up authentic fare to both weekend visitors and locals alike. Since taking over the Café in 2000, Chef Galo has made a point of celebrating the different regions of South America with the variety and diversity of flavors on his menu. Acting as a sort of tour guide, Gomez lovingly leads his guests through the culinary stops of his heritage. His dishes serve as a virtual geography lesson, each taking diners to one of several highlighted countries: the salmon from Brazil, the sausages from Argentina and the ceviche from Ecuador. The empanadas, though, one of the more popular items on the menu, are filled with a fusion of flavors that is inspired by all the regions.

Customers who walk in the door are transported to another place and set down into a dining room of rich colors and bold décor. It is a traveler’s dream to visit so many countries with such minimal effort.

Though the menu reads as a love letter to South America, and Galo’s ties to his homeland are obvious, his ties to Ventura are just as real. Not only is he happy to be near his mother and siblings, but he feels a strong connection to his customers and employees as well. “My employees are like my family,” he says. “We spend all our days together.” And some nights, too, as Galo has been known to break out his guitar and serenade his late-night guests and employees.

And when it comes to his customers, he is clear on what matters. “The most wonderful thing, for me,” says Galo, “is when someone celebrates an occasion that is special for them in my restaurant. That is important to me.”

Helping those who are a bit less fortunate is also obviously important to Galo, a fact illustrated by his hiring policies. Galo hires employees from every walk of local life, including some looking for a second chance. “He is a person of the community who not only extends friendship, but employment as well,” says Clyde Reynolds, executive director of Turning Point Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on helping citizens, many homeless, get a new start.

“You take a chance with anyone you hire,” says Galo. “These are good people who don’t want to be in the streets. They have earned their jobs”.

Ownership of Café Bariloche, to Gomez, is more than a business; it is a source of pride. The combination of authentic dishes and strong family ties lends to the success of this downtown eatery, which has faithful locals routinely stopping in, not only for a bite to eat, but for a taste of tradition as well. So, when visiting Galo’s restaurant, expect a culinary journey with a destination like no other, and find yourself in the heart of South America by way of downtown Ventura.

Mom’s garbanzo bean salad

At Café Bariloche, a salad is so much more than a pile of iceberg lettuce and a side of dressing — with choices like chilean cabbage salad and pinto bean salad, they are creative and complementary extensions of every meal. And, like most dishes at Café Bariloche, the salads have been lovingly influenced by Chef Galo Gomez’s mother; perhaps none so completely as the fabulous garbanzo bean salad.

Mom’s Garbanzo Bean Salad

Serves 5

  • 2 lbs. dried garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp. sugar

Place garbanzo beans in a large pot and add approximately 12 cups of water, or enough to completely cover beans. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour, or until beans are tender. Drain beans and let them cool.

In large bowl, combine beans, lemon juice, olive oil, cilantro, green onions, sugar, salt and white pepper. Mix well. Serve cold.

06-01-2006

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