Two culinary masterminds are reuniting, and we’re lucky to be the beneficiaries of their talents. Local restaurateur Gary Rack (of Racks and Farmhouse Kitchen fame) is teaming up with Chef Demetrio Zavala, four-time “Chopped” Champion and “Chopped” Grand Champion, to bring us a special dining experience rooted in clean, simple ingredients that are integrated into thoughtful, well-executed dishes.
But this isn’t the first time these two gentlemen have worked together. Seventeen years ago they partnered to create Rack’s first original concept, Coal Mine Pizza in Royal Palm Place. They cemented a lifelong friendship that has continued all these years. The duo talks up to 10 times a day, and Zavala even adoringly calls Rack’s wife “mom.” After a year of reunion discussions, the two decided now is the time to redevelop the Farmhouse brand and open new locations throughout Broward and Palm Beach within the next two to three years, with Zavala as the culinary director of the company and chef-partner of the yet-to-open locations.
“As a restaurant group, we decided to elevate the dining experience,” says Rack. “We’re going to create something down here that’s never been done before.”
Zavala, who was born on a military base in Colorado, grew up in Delray Beach with his Cuban grandmother. He describes his upbringing as poor—sometimes living without lights, food and water.
“My grind is a little bit different than most people. I know what it is to not have,” he says. He’s taking his humble past and merging it with what he’s learned working alongside esteemed chefs like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud and at legendary restaurants like Eleven Madison Park to create a food philosophy that’s focused on appreciating ingredients and zero waste (utilizing every usable part of an ingredient). He’s all about maximizing what you have, even making pasta out of corn husk, which most people toss, and cooking with unexpected ingredients like tomato leaves, which he says have more flavor and nutrients than the tomatoes themselves. And both Zavala and Rack are looking to develop relationships with local farms and cattle ranchers to rope them into their local, sustainable concepts.
“I’m a chef because it’s my way of touching people through food and making a difference in their lives,” he explains. “Chefs cook with their hearts. You’re giving somebody your all on a plate, and you want them to love it as much as you love it.”
Last December, Zavala’s passion for cooking came to a startling halt. His intestines and appendix suddenly burst, causing him to go septic, and during emergency surgery he had to be resuscitated. After awakening from the harrowing experience, the first thing he thought of was “will I be able to cook again? Being a chef isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle,” he says.
Now fully recovered, Zavala is looking to wow diners with his minimalistic yet delicious food. “We want to not only educate people about food, but we want you to feel healthy and happy when you leave our location.”
For Rack, he’s excited Zavala shares his expertise with his staff. “We’re all here for one purpose, and that is giving a tremendous product to our dining guests and elevating who we are,” Rack says. “It’s nice having [Zavala] back with me. It’s rejuvenated me to want to go ahead and really develop and grow the brand even more. Together as a team, we’re going to knock it out of the park.”