By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Master Chef and culinary icon Joachim Splichal is widely recognized as a major contributing force in the culinary world and an innovative maverick in the California dining scene. The recipient of numerous awards and accolades, among his highlights are his induction into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America and them naming him Best California Chef. He is the Chef and Founder of Patina, the Michelin Starred Relais & Chateau Property in downtown Los Angeles. Splichal then created the Patina Restaurant Group in 1999. It now boasts approximately 60 restaurants and food service operations throughout the United States offering impeccable cuisine and service. The City of Los Angeles hails him as an official “Treasure of Los Angeles”.
As one of the country’s foremost culinary masters, what inspires you?
Authenticity. From the beginning of my career to now, what inspires me is the ability to maintain the highest quality of dishes and service in all of my endeavors. The finest food punctuated with impeccable service is my goal each and every time. This has always been my philosophy. Creativity and consistency together are vital to deliver a memorable experience to the dining patron from start to finish.
How did your cooking background prepare you for your restaurant journey and success in the United States?
I come from Spaichingen, a small village in Germany, and my parents owned a hotel there. I learned from the bottom to the top. I liked the business and initially trained in the hospitality industry in Switzerland. In France, I had exceptional experiences by working at two star Michelin La Bonne Auberge in Antibes and then with leading chef Jacques Maximin at Chantecler at the Hotel Negresco in Nice. I went on to three-star Michelin L’Oasis in La Napoule. When I was invited to cook at the Regency Club in Los Angeles, I was ready for a change so I came to the US and my cooking career here began.
It was in the early 80’s before the farmer's markets craze really took hold. But my classic French training and love of market produce there transferred easily to California where fresh items were abundant allowing me to push forward with a lighter approach to dishes. This was already happening in France but it hadn’t quite reached here yet. Timing was everything. I think being young and bold and daring gave me the courage to be playful and more innovative with cuisine than Americans had been used to from European chefs. I learned a lot and rode the restaurant rollercoaster of success and mishaps when I moved on to Seventh Street Bistro and Max Au Triangle. By the time I opened Patina in 1989, I had the passion and business acumen to give it my best efforts on every level in and out of the kitchen. When I partnered with Nick in 1999 to form the Patina Group, I was clear by then that fine cuisine, service and genuine hospitality was what I wanted to continue to do with any other restaurants I developed.
As one of the most extremely successful chefs and restaurant owners in the country, what continues to drive you in today’s culinary world?
Being a chef and a restaurant owner is the life I have chosen and truly enjoy. A committed work ethic is everything blended with the reality that running a restaurant is a business. Culinary excellence is an art form but having a restaurant is not only about presenting fresh beautiful food. It is about balance and how to do that well along with acknowledging that profit and loss are a real part of the equation. For me, the future is in our next generation and that is why mentoring is such a vital part of my career. I am very proud of that accomplishment with the chefs that have trained with me over the years in the Patina Group. Whether they’ve stayed or moved on to other places, they’ve taken knowledge and ability with them as they find their way in the culinary world. I will always develop creative concepts that can work. New menus and restaurants need to please the patron so they return. But it must make sense upfront and behind the scenes too. This philosophy keeps me interested. For example, I’m excited that we have just renovated and reopened Nick & Stef’s, our excellent steakhouse restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
The Patina Group has also become recognized as bringing delectable dining experiences around cultural venues. How did that come to be?
I like the synergy of landmark dining within a cultural venue. Fine art or music compliment fine dining. And fine dining doesn’t mean heavy or stuffy. It means fresh, creative dishes that complement the setting. I’m obviously very proud about Patina becoming a Relais & Chateaux property and our Michelin star but I am extra pleased that it does so well at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That move was a real leap of faith! And now we have Ray’s & Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Leatherby’s Café Rouge at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, and Tangata at the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana, In New York, we have many cafes at places like Rockefeller Center yet Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center and Grand Tier Restaurant in the stunning Metropolitan Opera House are special destinations too.
Your gorgeous Tuna “Cake” is a part of your special events menu. How did it come to be?
To me this tuna cake is the ultimate culmination of my French training and my fortunate long career in California. It resembles the classic look of a layered French Napoleon dessert yet it is surprisingly a savory appetizer using superb Californian ingredients like the Grade A Tuna, fresh avocado, red onion and chives. I love the use of the yuzu sauce as an Asian touch. It is one of my favorite signature dishes to make.
In your opinion, what is it about the Matfer products that make a difference in preparation and results of your various dishes?
High quality and precision. Matfer is a French company. I trained in Europe with a lot of that training time in France. In Southern France, when I worked alongside my mentor Jacques Maximin at Chantecler he only used Matfer. It is what I have always used in all of my kitchens. They have everything. The high quality of their products has never wavered. I know what I’m getting and the chefs I now mentor and train know what they are getting. I like the precision of their knives and their copper items.
The global businessman Bob Goshen says, "Leaders should influence others in such a way that it builds people up, encourages and educates them so they can duplicate this attitude in others." Do you agree?
Yes. Leading by example is what I believe to be the highest form of training and advice-giving. Showing someone how to prepare a dish is far more effective than just handing him or her a recipe card. From the interaction of cooking together, a relationship forms, trust is established and it encourages the “trainee” to take ownership of the newly learned talent.
Personally, what do you like to cook at home?
Anything with fleur de sel gris. It is the perfect salt, simple yet profound. And I like going to the farmers market to see what’s fresh and then making those side dishes with steak or roasted chicken when I eat with my sons.
Matfer supports the charity Autism Speaks and so do you. Matfer is sponsoring this October culinary event by providing utensils for the participating chefs. You will each be cooking at a table on that evening. What is your connection to Autism Speaks?
We can all help each other by giving our time and abilities to make a difference. Children are our future. Deep in our hearts, every parent, including me, wants their children to be happy and healthy. Some are healthier than others. For those who need extra help to have a better life, it is clear that research and support infuse that positive development. I am impressed with what Autism Speaks does as a charity and I am pleased to be involved. To cook to support this purpose is very fulfilling to me.
More about Joachim Splichal
Splichal’s restaurants have likewise been lauded by some of the country’s most discriminating restaurant and food critics. The Michelin‐starred Patina relocated from Hollywood to Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, emphasizing Splichal’s commitment to performing arts and cultural centers, and received a rare four‐star review from the Los Angeles Times in 2010. Other recent highlights from among the restaurant group’s
holdings include Ray’s & Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Lincoln Ristorante at New York’s Lincoln Center being named two of the country’s Best New Restaurants in 2011 by John Mariani in Esquire; Leatherby’s Café Rouge at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, receiving a three-star review from the Los Angeles Times; PRG’s prestigious catering division executing the Creative Arts and Primetime Emmy® Awards—the largest seated catered meal in North America—for 16 years. In addition, PRG’s catering division being chosen from over 10 high‐profile competitors to cook for newlyweds Prince William and Kate Middleton at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles during the royal couple’s tour of California.
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