We’re meeting Antonio Ortuño outside a beautiful loft on Canal Street. He’s the owner and chef of Garlic & Parsley’s, a food catering service that brings Mediterranean flavors right to your table. The apartment boasts a fantastic kitchen and tons of natural sunlight, a true real estate gem. Later that evening, after searching the cabinets for black pepper, he will delight us with a Spanish recipe that is very close to his heart, Pollo en Pepitoria.
Originally from Alicante, Antonio landed in New York City with the purpose of learning English. “I arrived in 2005 with four duros in my pocket. When I got here, I had a sucker stuck in my ass,” he says, remembering those first months in the big city. The economic ordeals didn’t take long to surface. Soon, he ran out of cash and discovered the bank account he had opened in Valencia, with the sole purpose of retrieving money in the United States, was practically useless. “I couldn’t take cash out of the ATM! I had to borrow money from a friend in order to pay for the basics; food, rent, school. In debt right from the very start. Can you imagine that?” But nothing could ever stop Antonio. He began walking dogs—something he still enjoys doing today.
So how does a plastic artist, house painter, entrepreneur and dog-walker decide to open a catering business in one of the most competitive cities in the world? New York was more like a detour in his life. His dream was to live in Japan. After an artistic project in the Land of the Rising Sun fell through, he flew back to Spain, where he had a bustling business painting houses and curating exhibitions. Since he had shown his artwork in Soho before, New York City was not that foreign to him. And so came with $200 in his pocket. Then one day in 2011, he made a proposal to a friend to do a catering for her office. They started giving him a lot of work; events, Christmas parties. He created his own website and business has been growing steadily ever since.
Antonio moves about the kitchen like a speedy bullet. He’s busy setting up the ingredients for his master dish, opening drawers, taking a whiff or two at spices, requesting someone go on a bread run—Chris volunteers to run the errand and finds a nice loaf in Essex Market. “I’ve cooked all my life. My friends see me as their official cook. It is something I do all day; stews, stuffed rabbit, you name it. I’m one of those people who sets a tablecloth for every meal. I still do,” says Antonio with pride. For a man who adores his independence, the idea of opening his own restaurant seems preposterous. “Are you insane? That is the last thing I would do. I left home when I was 17. I don’t have any obligations. I don’t even have pets just so that I can come in and out whenever I want.”
Nothing stops Antonio from creating magic in the kitchen. He prefers cooking salty foods—empanadas, wonton, Asian and Spanish dishes, tiny bites, octopus from Galicia, succulent mushrooms, tortilla de patatas, sardines in vinegar, pollo al ajillo, roasted potatoes. “Everything is so delicious!” he claims. And after tasting his Pollo in Pepitoria, we believe him. “This is my mom’s recipe,” Antonio explains. “She cooks many things; hake, seafood, but this is her staple recipe. I’ve cooked it ever since I started living by myself. It was one of the first things I ever made in the kitchen.” Spain is still on the other side of the ocean but that doesn’t prevent a resourceful Antonio from telling mom about his delicious creations, “The fact that something tastes just like your mother’s dish, even though you’re in New York, is an amazing thing.”
While we’re sitting at the table eating an amazing meal and listening to Antonio’s stories—which are mostly filled with chaos and drama—we’re thinking that a reality show about his life would be the best idea ever. “Do you remember that bank clerk from Valencia? I went back to complain for not being able to get my money! I stood there in front of him and said It’s me! Antonio from New York!” We do little to contain our laughter.
The chicken is almost gone and we’re trying to soak our last pieces of bread in what little pepitoria sauce is left. “I’d like to stay in New York. I’d like to travel more, but I’m happy as I am. I only need money to live, pay my bills. If I become a millionaire then so be it. It could be a matter of luck!” says the chef behind the silk bow tie. Between attending his own business, making art, and mastering a new language, Antonio knows how to keep himself busy. He’s also about to publish his first cookbook, Recipes From Your Grocery Store, or as he likes to call it: his little baby. For Antonio, food is a ritual. A sacred moment that cannot be corrupted with plastic silverware or cheap ingredients. For those who have had the pleasure of meeting him, one thing is clear; his philosophy towards life is as inspirational as his food.
Antonio's Recipe for Pollo in Pepitoria.
Photos by Pako Dominguez.