A story in Tuesday's edition of the Anne Arundel County Sun incorrectly reported the properties held by the BWI Parkway Hotel Group, which owns the new Ramada hotel in Hanover. The company does not own Days Inns in Laurel and Lanham or a catering hall in Silver Spring.
* The Sun regrets the error.
Ten hours into his work day, Emilio Torres shows no signs of fatigue. He's talking 80 mph in a thick Peruvian accent about his passion, his life and his livelihood: restaurants.
Times are tough for restaurants, he says. You have to be good or you're out. You have to know what you're doing, listen to what your customers tell you or you'll fail. And has Emilio Torres ever failed?
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
"Never," he says, without hesitation. And without prompting he points in the general direction of Timbuktu. Not the town in Mali, but the restaurant just up Dorsey Road, the one where Torres says he worked as a consultant 12 years ago for seven months. That's how long it took to change the entire menu, hire a new kitchen staff and boost the lunch business from 60 to 700 customers a day, he says.
"I made that place what it is today," says Torres, who lives in Annapolis and Towson.
But that was many years, many miles and many restaurants ago. Since then, Torres has worked as consultant and/or chef at dozens of restaurants, putting his personal stamp on the menu and the staff that prepares it. He has worked in kitchens in London, St. Thomas, Bermuda, Hawaii, Chicago, New York, Washington and the Baltimore area.
These days, he's working 14 hours or more a day at his latest creation: Arizona's Grill and Bar, a Tex-Mex place that just opened in the remodeled 132-room Ramada BWI in Hanover. If this restaurant succeeds, it will bring to more than 40 the number of restaurants that Torres says he has brought into the world as a consultant.
When Torres arrived here a few months ago, the new owners -- who also own Days Inns in Laurel and Lanham and a catering hall in Silver Spring -- were busy renovating a bankrupt hotel and restaurant, sinking $1.3 million into improvements after buying the business from the Maryland National Bank. The 170-seat DTC restaurant and bar was made over in pastels, with glass-shaded lamps hanging over the booths and a view of the kitchen. The decor was done by the managing partner's sister-in-law. For the menu and the staff, the owners turned to Torres.
"I found him to be unique," said Gus Triantis, the managing partner of BWI Parkway Hotel Group, who was referred to Torres by the National Restaurant Association. "He's got a flavor. He's got an understanding of all types of ethnic cooking."
If you don't believe Triantis, just ask Torres. He'll tell you he's created menus for Italian, German, Cajun, Japanese and, of course, Latin American restaurants. He'll tell you he's learned by hopping from restaurant to restaurant, and prefers to hire people who also have broad experience.
"You get a guy works 15 years in the same place, he does the same thing over and over like in the army," said Torres.
At 43, Torres has already spent 34 years in the restaurant business. He started at age 9, mixing salads in his family's restaurant in Lima. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of San Marcos in Lima, and studying for a year at Gourmet International of Lima, Torres hit the road.
"You have to have experience. The school only teaches you the basics."
His latest effort is part of a trend, with several Tex-Mex places having opened in the last few years in Montgomery County, Triantis said.
"It's cheap, easy to be consistent," said Torres. "It's easy to cook, it's fast."
His personal favorites include the Mexican Hat Dance, a melange of beef, chicken and sausage, marinated in olive oil and Spanish herbs and grilled. He also likes the chicken Veracruz, sauteed chicken breast with garlic, cilantro, capers, hot peppers and white wine.
As the restaurant is just a few days old, Torres is still doting over the place. He gets in about 5 in the morning for 6 a.m. breakfast, and usually stays through dinner. He says he sticks around to watch the staff he just hired ("Sometimes when the cat is not around, the mice, they don't do anything.") and to find out what the customers think.
"I find out everything about the kitchen and the food from the customer," said Torres, who said he table-hops during meals, seeking tough criticism.
"He says he doesn't want people to criticize," said Triantis, "he wants people to 'crucify' him if they find fault with the food."