Garcia was born in Baton Rouge, La., when his Venezuelan parents were studying at Louisiana State University, but they soon returned to their native country, where he was raised. At age 16, they sent him back to the United States to study civil engineering at LSU.
“Back home – in Latin American countries – people in the middle class and upper-middle class have servants, so I never had a chance to do things for myself,” said Garcia, 31. “One of the reasons my parents wanted me to come to the U.S. was to learn to do things on my own like Americans do.”
Garcia said in college, he had to do his own laundry, his own cleaning and his own cooking.
“It was very much a challenge for me,” he said. “That’s when I discovered I had a passion for cooking. I turned to cooking when I would get stressed – I’d cut veggies or something. The kitchen gave me peace.”
Garcia, a civil engineer and project manager for a construction company based in Michigan, said in his family, the men are the cooks.
“The males in my family – my grandfather, my father – always took the lead role in the kitchen,” he said. “This is not typical; it’s very atypical. When I want advice on recipes, I turn to my father. My mother is a good cook, too. I have to give her credit. But my dad does most of the cooking.”
When Garcia moved to Tupelo in the summer of 2009, he didn’t know anyone in town. Once he put himself out there and started meeting people, he knew he’d found a permanent home.
“That’s why I stay here,” said Garcia, who travels extensively for his job. “I love the people.”
And he loves to entertain the people.
“When I first started cooking, it took me about eight times to learn to cook rice correctly, to get the right consistency,” he said. “Probably my first 20 meals didn’t taste good. I didn’t know the right amount of salt, the right amount of pepper. I was cooking to impress my friends and it wasn’t working.”
Garcia was cooking in large quantities and he couldn’t get the proportions right. So he quit cooking for a crowd and start preparing meals just for himself.
“I decided until I can make something good, I would only cook for myself,” he said.
Now, he regularly feeds friends at his home in east Tupelo. He makes several traditional Latin American dishes, but can also cook Italian and even Lebanese food.
“When I entertain, I want to make something different for my friends, something they’ve never tried,” he said. “I like to be creative. I don’t follow recipes. I take a recipe and make it my own.”
While Garcia enjoys his work as an engineer, his dream is to one day open his own restaurant.
“I want a tapas place where young professionals will have a place to have a drink and share experiences,” he said of the appetizer-sized portions that are popular in Spanish bars and restaurants. “A place to have a good time and talk.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.