In a nutshell, who are you?
Jose Blanco, owner of Cafe Blanco in Kambah. But really, I’m just a chef. I like cooking, and I like caring for people and looking after people.
What is Cafe Blanco?
Cafe Blanco is a little piece of heaven! It’s the place I spend the most time and the place where I create the food that I like to cook.
What’s a dish that best sums up what your venue does?
I would definitely recommend the tomato tostadas. It’s nice, it’s fresh, and it reminds you of summer. It’s a beautiful dish and really easy to eat. Tostadas are basically a deep-fried taco so it’s always nice and crispy. These tostadas come with a pipián sauce, a traditional Mexican sauce. We serve with tomatoes, nectarines and fior di latte, which is similar to mozzarella but a little more astringent and some pickled onions.
What dish best describes you?
Hot chocolate is a big part of my childhood. Growing up, my grandma had a little farm and she would grow a lot of cacao plants so we always had fresh homemade cacao paste. We used to put cheese on our hot chocolate! This is usually for breakfast or dinner.
You make a fresh hot chocolate and then you put a piece of queso fresco (fresh cheese) on top, and while you drink the chocolate, the cheese will melt. You have a side of bread, and you put the melted cheese on the bread. It’s a bit strange, but it makes sense!
Right now, I’m really into a lot of Middle Eastern and African cooking. I think one of the reasons I find African food fascinating is because of the African slave trade that was in South America. With colonisation by the Spanish, many slaves brought in their culture and their cooking and the food, and it’s really interesting to see how that influences Southern American cooking today.
An ingredient you can’t live without?
Garlic and onions! Give me garlic and onions and I can make anything. The smell of garlic in butter, I love it!
Who is your biggest culinary influence?
My Dad. He would often cook, not as much as my Mum, but he would cook really cool and make funny, funky, interesting stuff. He introduced us to Italian and French cooking. He would try anything. My Grandmothers too. They were a big influence.
What food media inspires you?
I grew up watching Anthony Bourdain’s shows. It’s more than just cooking: it’s about the political side of food and the cultural and historical side of food.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
I wish people were a little bit more kind to people in this industry. There’s a lot of long hours, stress and financial struggles, especially with small businesses. Just be kind. It’s not hard.
Where do you dine out in Canberra for comfort food?
I’ve been going a lot to Sushi Train. Just sit down and grab what I feel like. Or probably just go to my sister’s house and have some home-cooked meals.
Where do you dine out for special occasions?
Rebel Rebel or Lamsheds. The cooking, the culture. The energy is so good.
What’s your go-to coffee?
Cafe Mame in Melba, also beautiful cooking and an amazing chef.
Favourite bar in Canberra?
Bar Rochford! I don’t get there much lately because business has been busy, but it’s an icon, it’s an institution in Canberra. Josh Lundy is a good bloke and a good friend.
Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of Canberra?
I like going to the National Gallery to draw some inspiration, maybe walk around the lake and go to the Arboretum. All these iconic sites of Canberra reflect the lifestyle and what Canberrans strive for.
Who do you admire in the Canberra food scene?
Definitely Jeff Lamshed. He’s one of my biggest mentors. I’ve worked with him a couple of times and a lot of my work ethic and the way I think about food is influenced by him.
What’s your dream travel destination?
Japan. I haven’t been there before, but I’m just looking forward to eating! Walking through the city to eat and immerse myself in the culture and just learn. You can learn a lot by just eating and spending time with locals.
What’s a well-kept (or not so well-kept) foodie secret in Canberra?
It’s gotta be Ramas, the Fiji-Indian restaurant in Pearce. Amazing hospitality, beautiful cooking.
What do you think the ‘next big thing’ is in Canberra?
Bhutanese and Nepalese cooks are getting a name and growing in the food scene. I’m really looking forward to seeing what these people will bring to the food scene in Canberra. It’s gonna be tasty. We have a very flavourful future ahead of us!
Where are you excited to eat next?
Dada in Woden. I’ve been there a couple of times, but I’m always excited to go back and see what the chef is making. His cooking is always evolving.
What are your top 3 recipe tips?
3. Taste. Always taste, then taste again!
Cafe Blanco can be found at shop 1/3 Carleton Street, Kambah. It’s open Tuesday to Friday from 7 am to 2 pm, and from 8 am to 2 pm on weekends. Follow Cafe Blanco on Facebook or Instagram.