Brazilian chef George Rodrigues has sliced and diced his way through the restaurant industry with a resume that includes being the chef de cuisine at D.C’s Boqueria. Now after years of sharpening his culinary skills, he’s opened El Mercat de Tapas in Rockville, his first solo restaurant. The chef gave Montgomery Magazine some insight into his motivations for the new venture.
MM: What inspired you to become a chef?
GR: I actually went to college to civil engineering. Right before my graduation year, I decided that I didn’t want to waste half of my life working in that field if I didn’t have any passion for it. But I always loved cooking. It came naturally to me and when I decided the college road wasn’t I decided to turn to being a chef.
MM: What made you decide to open your own restaurant?
GR: Opening a restaurant was always a dream that I had. For many years I kind of pushed it aside. Like most of the hospitality industry, I got laid off because of COVID. So for four months I was without a job. It was a good time to think what will be next?
Unfortunately, COVID changed so many people’s and business’ lives. But at the same time, it presented opportunities. So we were able to seize the opportunity that it presented in terms of locations being available and rents being more manageable, and take advantage of that.
MM: Why did you choose to bring tapas to Rockville Town Center?
GR: We live close by. We know this area, and prior to COVID this was a vibrant area. Like COVID did to many other areas, the restaurants and small businesses here were decimated. We want to bring that vitality back into the area.
Also I think this area especially was lacking, in terms of culinary, some Spanish Tapas. That was the main drive, really. When my wife and I were looking into what we wanted to do in this location the idea of Spanish tapas came really easily.
MM: What can people expect when they come to El Mercat?
GR: We want to be a restaurant where the people here, our neighbors, can come in and have a good time. We don’t just want to be a place where we they come in, eat, pay for their meal and go. We want to meet them and greet them as if we were family.
MM: For many, coming to El Mercat will be their first time trying Spanish tapas. What do you recommend for them to order?
GR: The staples would be Spanish omelets, gambas al ajillo [shrimp with garlic], the octopus with potatoes. Paellas is something else that’s very interesting. It’s a baked rice and it’s great. The traditionals are a great way to start.
Q: What’s the future for El Mercat? Do you want to open another location soon?
GR: One person can always dream, right. But right now we want to focus on this one and make sure that systems are in a good place and that our guests are in a good place. The focus will be 150 percent on this restaurant.