In the first part of our interview with new Patina chef Tony Esnault, we learned that the Frenchman was recommended for his current job by Alain Ducasse, with whom he'd cooked for a number of years. It took Patina founder and owner Joachim Splichal nearly a year to find the right chef for his flagship restaurant in downtown's Disney Hall–the kitchen is sound-proofed to isolate the noise from the concert hall–after Theo Schoenegger, the previous chef, left to open his own restaurant in Las Vegas.
Splichal was having lunch with Ducasse at Splichal's home in Biarritz, on the coast of France, and the subject of the open position at Patina came up. Ducasse suggested that Splichal meet Esnault, who had left Ducasse's restaurants to spend time with his young family. Splichal must have been pretty convincing, because Esnault accepted the job, moved his wife and two young sons to South Pasadena, and promptly started work, reinventing the entire Patina menu in less than a month.
Squid Ink: Who's been the most influential person on your cooking life?
Tony Esnault: Alain Ducasse .
SI: What's one thing you wish people knew/realized about cooking?
TE: That you truly need to have a passion in this profession.
SI: What's your favorite cookbook?
SI: What's your favorite music to cook to?
TE: I'm a huge music lover and have music playing at home all the time. I listen to anything from old jazz to electronic music. But I've never been a fan of music in the kitchen. I prefer to work in a quiet kitchen where we are able to hear what is going on and stay focused.
SI: What's the best dish you ever cooked and when and where was it?
TE: Foie gras ravoli with sunchoke emulsion at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in February 2007.
SI: What's your favorite dish to cook for your family?
TE: Steak and soup. Seasonal soup, like English pea soup. Soup is good, healthy. When I was young and we were visiting my grandparents, we always started with soup.
SI: What's your favorite cooking utensil?
TE: A whisk. Why? Because I like to whisk. Also a wooden spatula. And tweezers. They're more precise, like a surgeon. You don't have to use your fingers.
SI: Your plating is very beautiful. Is that important to you?
TE: Aesthetics, color, shape, geometry — all are very important to me. It's an art. I like to have each plate be different. Texture is very important. I like contrast on a plate. I hate to go to restaurants where everything is flat, boring, no surprises. I try to see things from above — an airplane view.
SI: Do you do that sort of thing at home for your kids?
TE: No. Although sometimes I play [with food] with my kids. My kids love vegetables. They go to school with carrots, little batonnets of carrots.
SI: Do you think differently about food here in L.A.?
TE: Not specifically. All my dishes have a lot of vegetables. That's the best-seller here [at Patina]: vegetable plates. L.A. is very healthy. I try and have very light sauces, using vegetable jus, vegetable broth. Not so much stock; more olive oil than butter. I was already doing that in New York, and now even more so in L.A.
SI: If you could open any kind of restaurant anywhere in the world, what would it be?
TE: It would be a restaurant based on French country cooking, the comfort food I grew up with.
SI: What's the worst dish you ever ate?
TE: I've been lucky so far.