I cook. I love what I do. I love every second, every part of what I do—the inspiration, the idea, and the creation. When I think about my culinary philosophy, I define it best by linking lessons learned from my mentors: find your own way, let your palate be your guide, and respect the ingredients. These lessons apply to home cooking as well, and I hope you will take that with you as you read my postings.
Profound respect for ingredients and a passion for excellence are two of the underlying tenets of my restaurant Sona, which I co-founded in Los Angeles in 2002. The passion for excellence relates to food but even more to every other aspect of the dining experience. It takes an incredible amount of energy to create and execute that. The food, service, table settings, temperature in the dining room and music level all play an integral role in the ultimate dining experience. I am immersed in every little detail—it’s all fine-tuning. Much like a concert pianist must have his piano perfectly tuned, the restaurant needs the same attention to turn out a perfect dining experience.
As for the food, I try to keep things constantly evolving. I can’t bear to cook the same dishes over and over again. It’s not inspiring. I like to create, push and do variations, which also speaks to the respect of the ingredients. A potato, for example, will have more available starch one day than the next, and by respecting that and being flexible, you push yourself to turn out the highest quality food you can.
Sona allows me to explore cuisine, but the success of that exploration depends on the development of a great team. The front and back of the house are truly connected, and it’s important to me that everyone is on the same page. I’ve seen the growth of so many talented people, including sous chefs Nathan McCall and Kuniko Yagi, pastry chef Karen Yoo, wine director Mark Mendoza, and a group of relentless cooks who help to articulate Sona’s commitment to the relationship between creativity and ingredients. Nothing is more exciting to me than working with a group of highly talented and driven people. It's also rewarding to see them go out on their own, become leaders, and make a contribution to their community.
As I enter my fifth year at Sona, I’m thrilled with all we’ve accomplished (our Wine Spectator Grand Award) and continued to develop (our tandem tasting menus, our seasonal cocktail program). But we are by no means satisfied. To me, success is about the pursuit, the constant reach for perfection. I don’t think you can ever get there—I think you have to work constantly.
So when Wine Spectator asked me to trade my chef’s knife for a keyboard and get to know a broader community, I jumped at the chance. For the next month, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I’ll talk about what’s important to me, both in cooking and in life. It may be a new cooking technique or dish I ate or even the way the waves broke at the ocean when I went surfing. If you see something you like or have a question you wish to pose, let me know. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — January 4, 2007 4:09pm ET
Bob Golbahar — Los Angeles — January 4, 2007 10:30pm ET
H Leah Amir — Los Angeles, CA — January 4, 2007 10:44pm ET
Steve Rodriguez — Toluca Lake, Ca. — January 4, 2007 11:55pm ET
Carole Wurster — New York — January 6, 2007 6:31pm ET
Peter Cargasacchi — Sta. Rita Hills — January 7, 2007 2:08pm ET
David Myers — January 8, 2007 5:17pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — January 10, 2007 10:49pm ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:07am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:09am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:13am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:14am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:15am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:16am ET
Charlie Trotter — Chicago, Illinois — January 15, 2007 7:39pm ET
Steven Greystone — Boston, MA — January 16, 2007 9:00am ET
David Myers — January 16, 2007 6:17pm ET
David Myers — January 16, 2007 6:31pm ET
Steve Rodriguez — Toluca Lake, Ca. — January 30, 2007 12:05am ET
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