Six Questions with Jocque Concepts Executive Chef Hector Cruz

Marilyn HawkesJuly 13, 2022
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Hailing from Mexico City, Hector Cruz began working for Jocque Concepts in 2008 and now serves as the company’s executive chef, overseeing Chop Shop, Diego Pops, The Montauk, The Hot Chick and Eat Up Drive In. While he doesn’t get to do much cooking these days, he creates new menu items and makes sure that all concepts are up and running.  How does he keep track of all those formats?  “I have a person in charge at each restaurant and I communicate with them daily.”  Here’s what Cruz has to say.

What’s your process for coming up with new menu items?
I think about what’s trendy, like several years ago, it was kale. So I try to come up with items like that. Once a year we do a product (review) and see what’s selling and what’s not. Whatever isn’t selling, we replace with new items. People do get mad sometimes. At Diego Pops, we used to have a barbecued chicken taco and it didn’t sell. We took it off and I got tons of complaints. Now, I have another taco that’s selling more and customers love it.

How has your Mexico City upbringing contributed to your cooking?
I use some original recipes that I’ve been eating since I was a kid in Mexico, like esquites, corn on the cob. In Mexico they sell esquites on the street. At Diego Pops we have a corn queso and it’s made with corn and epazote (an aromatic herb). I use ingredients like that to recreate the original recipes. I grew up eating al pastor tacos in Mexico and green chile chicken. My mom used to make that for me, deep fried tacos with green chile chicken. At Diego Pops, that’s one of our best-selling tacos.

What do you cook on your days off?
I make dinner with my 14-year-old daughter most nights. We cook everything. I’m teaching her how to make all the sauces from scratch and eggs any kind of way. I want to teach her everything. She’s loving it. When she’s at her mom’s, she sends me pictures of the food she makes and says, “Look at this daddy, I think mine looks better than yours!”

If you could pick one item to eat from any of your formats, what would it be?
I love our Hot Chick sandwich at The Hot Chick and Eat Up. It’s an amazing sandwich. The recipe is so complex. We use two different seasoned flours. There are probably 25 ingredients in that sandwich. It’s a complex flour for an easy sandwich.

Who inspires you?
My daughter. I do everything with her. When I do a new item, she’s the first to try it. She’s gone through everything with me, opening the restaurants, building menus and tasting recipes. She wants to be an actress or a singer.

What advice would you give an up-and-coming chef?
Just hang in there. Cooking takes a lot of time. If you’re going to be a restaurant chef, you have to be at the restaurant all the time. Put your heart in it. Until six years ago, I didn’t have Christmas or any holiday with my family. That’s when we work. Weekends, holidays, nights. But in the end, if you love food, it’s the place to be.

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