For our first edition of “Chef’s Choice,” we visit Verdi’s American Bistro and Executive Chef Jorge Gomez. The Coastal Breeze News is asking chefs across Marco Island to share a favorite recipe with our readers.
Verdi’s opened its doors in 1998 when Guy and Lisa Verdi started their 12-year run with the restaurant. In 2010, Vince Rodriguez moved from Miami to take the reins of the popular bistro. He has never looked back.
“I was looking to move to Marco Island, and I bought this restaurant,” Rodriguez happily recalls. “At the end of the day, I bought myself a job on Marco Island. It’s going well. It’s a totally different lifestyle than living on the East Coast. I’m Cuban. I was born in Cuba. We immigrated to Chicago when I was 4. Lived in Jersey for 8 years, then moved to the East Coast of Florida. It was just time to leave Miami.
“I’m very happy we made the move. Marco Island… you can’t beat it. I wake up, play softball for a couple of hours, don’t have to be to work until 5, done by 9,” he says with a laugh. “Life is good. You can’t beat Marco Island. I recommend it to anybody. Just keep it a secret so it doesn’t become overwhelming. I highly recommend to anybody who can live in the Southwest Florida, Naples area, to find a place on Marco Island.”
About 2 years ago, Rodriquez found a gem of a chef in Jorge Gomez.
“Jorge has been working for me, this will be his second season,” Rodriguez said. “He has 30 years’ experience in the restaurant industry. I was lucky enough to grab him last year.”
Gomez has many years of rich knowledge as a chef, not only in his native Peru, but throughout the US. Gomez rose to the rank of Executive Chef in Peru where he worked for a prestigious restaurant in the country. When he made the move to the US, he struggled with English and consequently found himself working as a dishwasher instead of a chef.
“I studied 7 years of culinary arts in Peru,” he explained. “I worked in the number one restaurant in my country. Now they’ve closed because the owner died. That was my school, too. Fine dining cuisine. When I came to the United States, I was a dishwasher. I started from the bottom.”
Gomez did not begrudge the fact that he had to start at the lowest rung of the restaurant ladder.
“I washed dishes for 6 months,” he said, “it was good. I learned from the bottom and I learned the American system. Because my kitchen in Peru was totally different. When I was at the Marriott, I never said no to anything. After 5 years, they promoted me to be the supervisor. Marriott sent me to school. I didn’t understand any English. I knew the food, but I didn’t know English. I found a guy who could speak English, but couldn’t cook. So, we helped each other. I had more experience than anybody there. After I finished school, I was promoted the next day by Marriott.”
Gomez spent 18 years with Marriott, moving from Texas to Washington D.C., to Georgia and Orlando. Then he transferred to Marco Island. He quickly realized he had made a mistake.
“When they moved me here, it was my mistake,” he recalled wistfully. “I was used to working 120 hours per week. Then May came and they sent me home. I couldn’t survive. My little boy was just born. I transferred to the Ritz Carlton in Naples. I couldn’t make it there. So I quit after 18 years with Marriott. I had to learn the market here.
“I became the Executive Chef at BHA! BHA! Persian Bistro in Naples. The owner sent me to Iran to work with his mother for 15 days. She showed me how they make the rice. All their spices, all their rice, comes from Iran. I work here, but I recommend everybody to go to BHA! BHA!”
Gomez has a passion for cooking. He can tell right away if a person shares that passion.
“You know when someone takes the knife whether they love to cook,” he said.
Gomez invited the Coastal Breeze News into his kitchen where he prepared one of his favorite dishes. “Today we’re preparing Shrimp Timbale. It’s an Italian dish from the South. I use celery, diced red pepper, diced tomato and diced onions. I cut the shrimp into dices. Now we have to go to the kitchen.
“I use a lot of Parmesan cheese—at least one cup. I use the heavy cream—it’s easy to cook. Nothing difficult. You just have to go fast. When it’s almost ready, you add the onions, the celery, a little garlic, some green pepper, the red pepper paste. Then you have to cook it.
“It’s a clam base, mixed with garlic and shallots. I’m checking the salt. Perfect!
“Add heavy cream. Enough to cover all the dish. At least a cup and a half. Let it boil a little.
“Add your tomato—at the end always. Otherwise, it’s going to die. If you put the tomato in too early, the tomato is going to die—look ugly. You always save them until the end,so they look nice. Add your 8 ounces of pasta. You want the dish to be juicy. Because after this, I put it in the oven. I’ll put a little cheese around here. I’ll test again. I love it!
“Don’t put too much salt, because the parmesan cheese is salty. These two shrimps are our garnish. Salt and pepper. A little white wine.”
As the dish boils on the stove, Gomez notes its texture changing.
“It’s becoming creamy,” he said. “That’s beautiful. Now you put the pasta on the plate. A lot of juice. You have to cover all your pasta with parmesan cheese. Now you put this in the oven for maybe one minute. Then you take a torch. This is a spring mix, chopped as a garnish.”
Then Gomez lights a torch and bends over the dish.
“You use a torch to make the parmesan cheese crunchy,” he explains.
Gomez tops the dish with the two plump shrimp he had sautéed earlier. He adds the chopped spring mix for a garnish, and the Shrimp Timbale is ready to be enjoyed.
Verdi’s American Bistro is located at 241 N Collier Blvd. For reservations, call 239-394-5533.