1. What is something most people would find surprising about you?
While growing up in Dallas, TX, I was home-schooled by my mother. The only public school that I attended was community college during what would be my sophomore through senior year of high school.
2. What is your favorite childhood memory of food while growing up in Texas?
Every Monday night during football season my family would make Tex-Mex for dinner, anything from nachos to hard shell tacos with ground beef. My mother would ask me to cook the meat and mix with the packet of taco seasoning before she got home from work. It wasn't that the food was amazing, but I take comfort in that memory with my family.
3. What got you into cooking?
"Great Chefs of the World" on the Discovery Channel was a show I watched when I was a kid. Each episode focused on a chef in their kitchen making a dish of their choice. I always knew from that point on that there was something about cooking that took hold of me, because in that moment watching that show, nothing else mattered.
4. How many different places have you lived?
Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Virgin Islands, Bangkok and New York.
5. How long have you worked with Chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette?
Almost 10 years! I started working for Chef Ken at his flagship restaurant Clio when I first moved to Boston in 2009. I also spent some time in the kitchen with Chef Jamie at Coppa and TORO Boston before opening TORO Bangkok in 2016.
6. What's your favorite thing about living in New York City?
Prior to living in New York, I never had any desire to move here. After living here for over a year, I've come to truly love this city. The access to an immense amount of culture and cuisine (at any time of day) is really exciting as a chef.
7. What's your drink of choice to unwind after a tough service?
I usually go for a cold beer, after that I'll drink anything with tequila, but I usually reserve that for my days off. (Fun fact: The “Oui Chef”, one of our signature cocktails at TORO NYC, was named after Chef Zach’s love of tequila.)
8. How many tattoos do you have? What's your favorite one?
I have five tattoos, my favorite is one on the inside of my forearm that reads "Earn This". I see it as a reminder to always be humble and make sure that you earn everything you think you deserve in life.
9. What's your favorite dish on the menu at Toro NYC right now?
The Higado de Pollo, our chicken liver mousse dish with pickled Rainier cherries, wood sorrel, and crispy chicken skins. The inspiration for this dish originally came from a chicken skin sandwich we served as an amuse-bouche at Clio (our chef/co-owner Ken Oringer's flagship restaurant in Boston). I really love stone fruits when the season is right, and cherries are one of my favorite. Traditionally, chicken liver mousse is served with some type of crisp or toasted bread, which led to the idea of using chicken skins baked in the oven and seasoned with salt and pepper. Also, who doesn't love a crispy chicken skin?
10. Last question, what music are you listening to in the kitchen now?
A lot of hip hop or rap, and equally as much house music when the pace of the kitchen picks up before a busy weekend.
Stop in at TORO NYC this summer to try our Higado de Pollo and ask Chef Zach Watkins a thing or two about Spanish cuisine! Our newest Wine Steward, Sara Bishop (who created this conversation!) suggests paring with a bright, sparkling cava.