SURF & TURF
Surf: Chef Paul Arias, The Fishery
Three years ago, when looking for a talented chef to steer them through the restaurant industry’s choppy waters, the best the Browns could do was put out a want ad and pray someone would come along with their level of passion for seafood and sustainability. Much to the Brown’s pleasure, and that of their customers, a talented culinarian by the name of Paul Arias threw his toque in the ring and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Sometimes things just work out, but examining Arias’ life and career leading up to his arrival at The Fishery suggests that this ideal pairing was the stuff of fate.
“My mother was no gourmet cook, but she cooked for at least six people every night and always made delicious, well-balanced meals,” recalls Arias. “Two of my favorites that could always bring me in from my childhood adventures were her beef stroganoff and tuna-noodle casserole. They were both simple in preparation, but brought on a feeling of comfort that I try to bring in my own cooking today.”
Arias’ first taste of professional cooking came at age 13, when he worked a summer job at a spot called Bonitas Frites on the Santa Monica Promenade, where he’d peel potatoes five hours a day to load the restaurant up with enough spuds for their popular Belgian-style fries. A big reason for the fries’ popularity was the restaurant’s sauces. One day, the owner enlisted Arias to help whip up some garlic mayonnaise.
“Mayo was huge in my house, but we were a Best Foods family all the way. It never dawned on me that you could make it from scratch,” says Arias, who learned how to make a variety of sauces that summer. “This from-scratch mentality gave me a sense of power over raw ingredients and made me want to learn more.”
And learn more he did, first at the Los Angeles Culinary Institute, then from Bel-Air Bay Club chef Pierre Sauvaget, who encouraged Arias to move to the French Riviera, where he spent a year honing his craft. But it wasn’t until he returned to the States and worked under two exceptional American chefs that he really got schooled on fine dining and classic European technique.
“When I returned, I worked at LA’s Water Grill for Michael Cimarusti, who is now one of the few two-Michelin-star chefs in California,” says Arias. “I watched him closely as he treated seafood with great respect and I was exposed to new ingredients and techniques that I will carry with me forever.”
In 1999, Cimarusti asked Arias if he would help him open a restaurant called Royale Brasserie in San Diego. He jumped at the offer, packed his things and headed to America’s Finest City. After roughly two years at Royale, he received an unexpected phone call from “some chef” named Jeff Jackson who said he was opening a restaurant in La Jolla, had gotten Arias’ name from a chef in LA and wanted to meet and discuss his project and the prospect of Arias joining his opening team.
“I thought, ‘What the hell? A little conversation couldn’t hurt,’” says Arias. “Best decision of my career! After Jeff Jedi mind-tricked me into leaving my chef position for a lead line cook and a $20,000 pay cut, it was on. The next few years changed me as a chef. He taught me old-school French technique that not many people take the time to do any more, but most importantly, he taught me to be humble and to enjoy how lucky we are to do what we do.”
Arias rose to the level of chef de cuisine at The Lodge before deciding it was time to head to the East Coast to experience life on the other side of the country. There, he spent three years working in Cape Cod. Despite knocking out a whopping 1,200 covers a night, he enjoyed his time there and added even more seafood experience to his already extensive bag of tricks, but when his son, Pablo, was born, he decided it was time to move back home to the West Coast.
“My love of seafood and cooking and passion for produce are a perfect match for The Fishery, its seafood-only philosophy and Judd and Maryanne’s passion for simple, healthy food,” says Arias. “Being attached to Pacific Shellfish has given me the opportunity to meet some of our fishermen and use the different, amazing things they bring out of our local waters.”
From lobster to harpoon-caught swordfish, sardines and sea urchin, the world just beyond San Diego’s shores truly is his oyster. Thanks to Arias, so, too is this issue of Edible San Diego. He and the Browns are toying with the idea of a cookbook. Three recipes that may make it into that compilation are here for advance viewing and culinary experimentation.
Turf: Chef Max Bonacci, The Linkery
It’s no surprise that, when looking for a chef with the goods to do right by goods from local farms, locavorian flag-flier Jay Porter tabbed a homeboy in his North Park ’hood. Much like the pristine proteins and produce that grace the menus of The Linkery and El Take It Easy, that move illustrates the virtues of local sourcing. Chef Max Bonacci revels in the challenge of taking the best of any day’s harvest and making it shine via innovative culinary styling.
“Growing up, I trained in my family’s kitchen and at my aunt’s winery in upstate New York,” says Bonacci. “Working in the fields with grapes and vines sparked something inside of me that ultimately manifested itself into the love of local, sustainable cuisine.”
Bonacci credits his grandmother and father for inspiring his love of food, and cites a venerable hunters’ stew, the origins of which date back to his great-grandfather, as being the single most influential dish of his childhood. A hearty concoction centered around slow-roasted chicken thighs and sausage, it has undergone numerous adaptations at the hands of the males in the family’s lineage. Bonacci currently serves his father’s version under the name of Albert Stew on The Linkery’s menu.
Later in life, Bonacci found himself living in Big Sur and working at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. It was in this Central Coast locale that his love for fresh, local everything grew even more.
“I remember getting abalone, mussels and rockfish right from the shore, straight from my friends, the fishermen,” Bonacci recalls. “We would cook a little up on the beach before heading back to the restaurant. This is where the true magic of local, fresh and sustainable is captured. This is how food is meant to be eaten.”
The Linkery and El Take It Easy’s common thread of rolling with the punches of regional, seasonal ingredient availability (every ingredient he uses, be they eggs, cheese, fruits, vegetables, legumes, meat or seafood, is farm-fresh) provides Bonacci the perfect opportunity to prove that on a daily basis. It’s a challenge he’s not only up to, but enjoys. Turning people on to his and Porter’s ideologies on edibles, he says, makes it worth the 90-plus-hour workweeks and time away from loved ones.
“The Linkery provides a space for me to do my work, hone my craft and get creative. Since we receive our products at the peak of their freshness, the dishes on the menu represent and honor exactly what Mother Nature is producing right now. My aim is always to highlight the freshness of our ingredients by not adding too many distracting flavors.”
That culinary strategy is in keeping with values handed down by mentor Phil Wojtowicz, the chef Bonacci worked under at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant.
“He planted the idea that I could have fun in the kitchen, turn my passion into a career and totally love it,” exclaims Bonacci, who says Wojtowicz and the chefs he later worked for at high-profile restaurants along the Central Coast pushed him to be his best, pay attention to minute details and continually evolve.
Proof of that evolution is served nightly on 30th Street along with dad’s hunters’ stew. Bonacci’s holding on tight to that recipe—some things in life are sacred. But we were able to wrangle a pair of meaty recipes he’s proud and happy to share with the hometown he consistently celebrates. To that end, he urges readers preparing his recipes to procure as many of their ingredients as possible at farmers’ markets or straight from the source.
“Definitely begin by using the best ingredients,” he says. “Visit a local farm. Most have tours and you can educate yourself and your family about produce and where your food comes from.”