Local Legend

Interview by Erin Jackson |
Culinary Personalities

Congratulations on your five-year anniversary at Whisknladle! How has Whisk evolved from the early years?

In terms of the food, we've matured a lot. We still serve the same style of food—French, Italian, and Spanish—but we are much more involved with local farms now, we're much more seasonally-focused, and we incorporate more modern techniques in the execution of our dishes.

Where did the idea for Prepkitchen come from?

The original idea was inspired by a small restaurant in New York that Arturo [Kassel] and I happened to come across during one of our early trips. The menu was very simple, showcasing things like porchetta either on a plate or in a sandwich with a few artisan sides to complement it. We wanted to do something like that—simple, every day, quality food. The concept evolved to what Prepkitchen is today, which is simpler food than what we serve at Whisknladle, but not as simple as a two-item menu.

Describe yourself as a chef.

Blue collar. Being a chef is work. It's not a glamorous job, despite the popularity of "celebrity chefs." You have to cook every day, on your feet, for long hours. You have to smell food and eat food in order for your talent to progress. You have to reinvent the wheel almost every day in a world where everyone is a critic. It's a tough job, but if you love it, none of that matters. I don't care how tired I am or how bad a day goes. I wake up renewed every morning, looking forward to being back in my kitchen. End of story.

What is your philosophy on hiring new chefs?

They have to be passionate about what they're doing. That's the only way that they will endure and learn from the long hours working in the kitchen. On top of that, I think it's important for chefs to eat at different places, to develop a taste for different cuisines. So, I look for that kind of “experience.” They also need to have the hospitality gene because that's what we're about. Egos get checked at the door.

Describe your supper clubs to the unlucky diners who have never experienced one.

Supper clubs were the inspiration behind Whisknladle when we first started out five years ago, and it's a tradition that we keep up once a month. In short, it's a socially-engaging dining experience where we sit 12 strangers around the chef's table at Whisknladle and walk them through a detailed menu with wine pairings. The energy at these dinners is incredible; everyone in the room is excited about the food. And, while the food is the conversation starter, a lot of people that meet at these dinners keep in touch and come back often.

My favorite part about this kind of dining is the level of engagement at the table—not just how people engage with the food, but also with each other. That's what these dinners are about. It's pure entertainment.

Can you call out a favorite supper club experience?

The English Game dinner that we hosted in November. For the first time in a long time, I was able to sit in as a guest at this supper club, which was prepared and executed by our chef de cuisine. It was a great menu and I was able to let go and enjoy it. As a restaurant owner, that's often hard to do.

It's springtime in San Diego. What will you be serving up at Whisk/Prep that reflects our local bounty of amazing produce?

You can expect dishes that incorporate fava beans, English peas, stinging nettles, Chino Farms artichokes, new potatoes, rhubarb, and other seasonal produce. We're also looking forward to some spring lamb.

Can you name some of your top local farms/purveyors?

Chino Farm, Crows Pass, Suzie's Farm, Cooks Pig Ranch, Niman Ranch, Catalina Offshore Products—the list goes on and on.

What makes San Diego a special culinary environment?

Our family of local farms and the produce we are able to yield year-round. San Diego has some of the best produce in the world. Chino Farm carrots taste like carrots. They aren't crisp and watery—they're colorful and they have a real earthy, sweet flavor. It's a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference in our dishes.

Where do you see Whisknladle Hospitality in five years? Will you be expanding outside of San Diego?

We hope to open two or three more restaurants—new concepts. We've looked at real estate outside of San Diego, and eventually we may venture out, but there are no plans to do so any time soon.