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Chefs' spotlight: Jason DeBriere

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Chef Jason DeBriere is the force behind the latest opening in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood focusing on Tex-Mex offerings: Café El Presidente, located around the corner behind Eataly. The space is decked out with an organic tortilleria, coffee and juice bar, cocktail bar, taqueria, and "marisqueria" serving local seafood, DeBriere's strong point.

Standout menu items include tacos filled with perfectly cooked shrimp and topped with a refreshing and pleasantly spicy salsa, and the Baja-style fish tacos with beer-battered cod, fried to just the right level of crispness. Also worth noting: DeBriere firmly believes in sourcing sustainable product, so customers can request a list of their vendors if they wish.

Although he wasn't formally trained at a culinary school, DeBriere has gathered a wealth of experience over the years, beginning as a line cook at Vivande Porta Via, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, followed by a stint with Marc Meyer at Five Points Restaurant here in New York, and, most notably, some time under Jonathan Waxman's wing at Barbuto. Just prior to becoming executive chef at Tacombi and Café El Presidente, he was chef de cuisine at Peel's.

Does the Flatiron district really need another Tex-Mex establishment, though? After all, it already has its share of taco joints with loyal lunchtime followings, most notably Tres Carnes, where a line forms out the door even on rainy days for its well executed take on Tex-Mex, incorporating flavorful Texas-style barbecue. And on the other end of the spectrum, though it has a very different business model and a different target market, when the lunch hour strikes, the local Chipotle is often mentioned in the same breath, well known for its value, sustainably sourced ingredients, and yes, long lines. But Café El Presidente has two things that these competitors don't: strong seafood offerings, and a full bar with a cocktail menu and plenty of room to mingle with colleagues after work. If Café El Presidente can succeed in luring some customers away from these two heavyweights during the critical lunch hour with its seafood selections and housemade tortillas, and again after work with the happy hour crowd, then success is definitely in its future.

Recipes by Jason DeBriere

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