He may have been born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but his heart is pure “cholo.”
In fact, Chef Clay Carnes has named his upcoming Antique Row restaurant Cholo Soy Cocina. It translates to “I am cholo,” a Latin American slang term for mixed race or mestizo.
Carnes, who will wrap up almost six years as executive chef at The Grille Fashion Cuisine in Wellington Sunday, says he will open Cholo Soy in West Palm Beach this summer. He plans a small eatery serving a well-focused selection of fresh tacos, Andean-inspired street foods, and dishes reflecting regionally grown ingredients.
Take his tortillas, for instance. They will be made of organic, non-GMO white corn that’s grown in Alachua County, says Carnes.
“We’re going to be grinding the masa for our tortillas. We’ll have handmade, freshly ground masa that we’ll be making twice a day,” Carnes told The Post Wednesday. “And we’ll be making mote out of the corn.”
The mote (hominy) reference reveals Carnes’ soul inspiration, which he describes as a “neo-Andean, Ecuadorean vibe.”
Ecuador is where Carnes worked as executive chef at the Mansion Alcazar boutique hotel in the city of Cuenca after a stint as chef de cuisine at Cucina Dell’Arte in Palm Beach. (Ecuador is also the birthplace of his wife, Maria, and their older son.)
But in true mestizo spirit, Carnes says his food at Cholo will not carry labels. The casual spot will serve interesting snacks, and small dishes as one might find at a Latin American market. He wants to pay homage to the unique flavors that have influenced his cooking, but create a space that’s both intriguing and accessible to all.
“People might go, ‘Cholo Soy? Do they mean soy sauce?’ And that might make them curious,” said Carnes.
The location, which once housed Jacki Mallick’s interior design shop, stretches a cozy 600 square feet. It offers just enough space for 12 seats, with some standing room at the counter.
While the possibilities are endless, the space is not. Carnes says this only cements his mission to keep the concept in focus.
“This concept is short and sweet – and a line out the door,” he says. “We can’t go overboard. Maybe Cholo Soy Heladería (ice cream shop) comes after this, but not for this project.”
However, he does plan to offer catering and plenty of carry-out foods, and fresh tortilla sales at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket during season. Plus, there will be exclusive “puerta cerrada” (closed door) dinners twice a month featuring guest chefs from around the state. Carnes says he’s eager to be part of the new culinary scene bubbling up in West Palm Beach.
It will be a vast change of pace and space for the chef who won an episode of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” last year. At The Grille, the equestrian hotspot he departs, he could serve 200 people at the same time.
But while he may lose space, he gains the freedom to cook the food he feels defines him best as a chef.
“Man, for me this is just 100 percent. This is everything for me. Every chef finds themselves at some point. I finally found myself in my cuisine,” says Carnes. “I came back from Ecuador to do American food and I never fully meshed with that. For me, opening this restaurant is planting a seed so I can do it all, do what I love.”