After searching for nearly a year to find the right chef to helm Patina, his downtown flagship restaurant, Joachim Splichal appointed Tony Esnault to the position just over a month ago. The 38 year-old Frenchman is from Saumur, in the Loire Valley, and worked with Alain Ducasse for much of the last decade. Esnault opened Adour for Ducasse in 2007 and was executive chef at the Essex House in NYC. In fact, it was Ducasse who recommended Esnault for the Patina job.
We met Esnault recently at Patina, where he was putting the finishing touches on his new menu and deciding what to cook for Splichal, who had just showed up for dinner. So would he cook anything special for the boss? "I don't know," said Esnault in heavily-accented English. "I cook the same for everyone." How very egalitarian. Hopefully Splichal is not a huge fan of potatoes, because, as Esnault explained, there aren't any on his menu.
Squid Ink: How do you like Los Angeles?
Tony Esnault: So far it is great. I've only been here about 6 weeks. I'm looking forward to getting to know the city, the neighborhoods and the chef community.
SI: What's it like cooking in Disney Hall?
TE: It's exciting and different from the restaurants where I've been in the last several years. On nights with events at the Hall we have pre and post theatre guests, so the dinner service can be quite long.
SI: What's your favorite ingredient to cook with?
TE: Olive oil.
SI: Do you go to the local farmers markets?
TE: I go to the Wednesday Santa Monica market. I always use seasonal products; if it's not there, it's not in season, so I don't use it. It depends, though. I don't have any potatoes [on the menu].
SI: No potatoes? That's a little odd. Why not?
TE: It's too easy. I do love potatoes though; I'll have them on at some point.
SI: What's your first culinary memory?
TE: Being on my grandparents' farm as a young boy. Everything we ate came right from the farm. It was my favorite thing to gather the warm eggs from the chickens. There were lots of cherry trees and I can remember picking cherries for pies and preserves.
SI: What's one thing you Will Not Eat ever?
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TE: I'm very adventurous and willing to try things, at least once. Of course, give me a monkey, a dog or a cat, I will not eat it. Well, and for a long time I couldn't eat cherries--cherries from the market, that is. I always ate them from the tree, and it just wasn't the same.
SI: What's one ingredient or technique you wish would go away?
TE: I am not a big fan of molecular cooking, but I don't necessarily think it should go away. I like natural [cooking], you know? If I want eggs, I eat eggs. If I want magic, I go to the circus.
Tune in tomorrow for the second part of our interview with Tony Esnault, and his recipe for butternut squash soup with crispy bacon and chive cream.