Each month, we ask one of San Diego's chefs:
What do you do and how do you eat when you're out of the kitchen?
Adios, Chad White
Chef Chad White left San Diego in December, closing down his restaurant and returning to his home town Spokane to start a new place. We can still watch Chad rep America’s Finest City on the current season of Top Chef, and wish him luck. Before he left, he shared some thoughts with Urbanist on food, creativity, and the local dining scene — and maybe a little insight why a talented chef might move away from SD. Imagine he’s speaking in past tense…
What kinds of meals do you eat at home?
In most cases I’m not the cook at home. My girlfriend Niya is the queen of our kitchen. Mostly traditional Bulgarian dishes like palachinki, moussaka, and kyufte. However, when I do cook it’s usually rustic, comforting and healthy — grilling, smoking, roasting whole chickens, charring vegetables or making childhood favorites like grilled cheese, pasta, and BBQ.
When you were out of the kitchen in San Diego, where did you like to dine out? Any favorites?
Typically you can find me scurrying across the border into Tijuana. I’m a street food junkie and pop up mostly at Wash Mobile for tortas, Taco Nazo for tripas and suadero, or a sit down at El Taller for their wood fired roasted beets and local goat cheese from Valle de Guadalupe.
When in San Diego you can find me bouncing around a number of ramen shops like Raki Raki on Convoy, Tajima in Hillcrest and Underbelly in North Park. Or diving mouth first in the a triple threat at Carnitas Snack Shack!
Where do you go for a drink?
Well I quit drinking two years ago this January, only because I was too good at it and I felt I needed to humble myself.
How do you like to spend your days off?
Relaxing with the kids. Well, kinda… My girlfriend, kids and I tend to hang out at the pool, join our friends for a day on their boat, eating at restaurants or cooking at home as a family.
If no one is around, I’ll get super lazy and nap like an old country hound on a porch.
What made you decide to become a chef?
On 9/11 I joined the U.S. Navy to serve and defend my country. The only specification I qualified for was to be a cook. At first I hated cooking — I wasn’t shown the side of cooking I was looking forward to seeing. It was popping ready-made pizzas in the oven and opening a arsenal of #10 cans over cooked veggies.
I was an artist growing up, following in my grandmother’s footsteps, and couldn’t see the connection at the time between food and art — until my mother was able to get my attention with what I see now as a no-brainer.
Mom: Chad, what do you put the food on?
Me: A white plate about 10 inches in circumference.
Mom: Chad, don’t you see that’s a canvas? Paint on it with food!
At that moment I found out just how smart my mom was, or just how blind, stubborn and close minded I was. She followed through and sent me books from chefs who used bright colors in their cooking. Bobby Flay was one of them as well as José Andres. I was hooked. Although I couldn’t cook like this in the Navy right away, I could practice at home until I was given the opportunity.
What is your favorite thing about the San Diego culinary scene?
It’s evolving each day, slow as a snail but the movement is there.
What kind of change do you hope to see?
A better dining culture…
Our dining scene is jaded. I’ve recently done some traveling both out of country, in and out of state, just to see how our food and dining culture stands up to other cities.
We are not far off from other cities, other than the choices and originality are limited. There are some great restaurants here, and very talented chefs held back from performing to their potential to provide great quality, compared to SF and LA. The difference here is our community will not allow the culinary scene to advance organically. It has to be forced, and with that comes risk — a risk most cannot afford, a risk almost not worth taking. If diners are not willing to take a risk, chefs can’t take risks.
I’m talking about supporting chefs who strive to make San Diego a more local-food secure environment. If you’re to kill an animal for food, show respect and eat the whole thing.
Also, support the freestanding restaurants. And if/when they fail to meet your expectations, respectfully inform them. Allow them to grow, invest in them so someday they can repay you with amazing food and service. We need this so we can keep the great chefs of San Diego, versus losing them to other cities willing to support them.