Fact: Stillman was the opening chef at Leatherby's back in 2006. It's about time we got to know the man who has come full circle in the last decade.
Tell us about your management style.
My management style is one of mentorship— I always try to lead by example. As I always say, “Work, work, ever more work.”
Most important qualities you look for in a sous chef:
The most important qualities I look for in a sous chef are someone who always shows up, reads cookbooks, tries new restaurants, is punctual and takes ownership.
One food you can't live without:
If I can't have something, I'll get something else. For example, at one of our restaurants they took away foie gras, so we substituted it with more pork belly. Then you don't miss it so much.
Weirdest customer request:
One time, a guest brought in Spam and asked me to cook it like the foie gras dish on our menu. We did it, and it was great!
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
I am always making buttermilk pancakes for breakfast; my daughter loves them. However, I can't wait to try a shakshouka.
Last thing you looked up online:
The last thing I looked up online was industrial artichoke canning. If I were to go to the hardware store and buy some power tools, I could make them as perfect as they do, but they would taste better!
Tell us about working at the Hollywood Bowl.
The Hollywood Bowl is an iconic place. I was ecstatic to have worked there even for only just one season. The history is rich, the sound is great and the memories are forever.
Favorite places to eat.
My two favorite restaurants (besides my own) are Nine Ten in La Jolla and Kettner Exchange in San Diego.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
My advice to first-timers is to try something you haven't had.
Most undervalued ingredient:
The most undervalued ingredient would have to be cumin.
One of your roles with Patina Restaurant Group was Culinary Project Manager. What did that entail?
When I first began with Patina Restaurant Group, I was a line cook. Five years later, I was promoted to Culinary Project Manager. At the time, I had just moved to L.A. and was awaiting a role at a restaurant. So for the time being, I helped re-vamp all the Market Cafes, train incoming chefs, give tours, wrote menus, catered and then opened a restaurant.
What is the appeal of working pastry versus hot line?
The appeal of working pastry versus the hot line is that there is a different mindset and different ingredients. It is more technical, less brutal, but just as challenging.
Your best recent food find:
My most recent food find was the chicken shawarma dish from Mr. Kabob in Temecula. It doesn't get much better than that.
How did you meet your wife, Jeannie?
I met my wife 10 years ago. At the time, we were both working for Patina Restaurant Group, and they happened to pair us together to open Leatherby's.
Favorite meal growing up:
I had a few different favorite meals growing up, like the lobster my mom would make, the steak my grandfather that was always perfectly cooked with his trusty timer and thermometer. And, of course, the rum cake from my dad.
Where did you grow up?
I am from all over the East Coast, actually. I was born in New York, but raised in Massachusetts until I was nine years old. I then moved to Maryland until age 18, and went back to New York for school until I was 21. After school I moved to Napa, California and worked at Pinot Blanc. However, the restaurant closed in 2006, and Patina Restaurant Group moved me to Orange County. I have been in Southern California ever since.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memory is of my mother's garden. We didn't have much money and lived on food stamps. But she had this incredible garden in the backyard, so we never went hungry.
When you're not in the restaurant, what are you doing in your free time?
Last book you read.
The last great cookbook I read was by Fernand Point, which is where I got the quote, “Work, work, ever more work.” I didn't really understand what it meant then, but I do now.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
The hardest lesson I've learned is that the customer is always right, even when they're wrong.
Where was your most recent meal?
My most recent meal was Thanksgiving. The meal included turkey, cooked by me, which I must add was delish. This was my first Thanksgiving off in . . . . You know, I can't even remember. It was great to actually be there with the family.
Do you have any skills that are not food-related?
I am a Jack of all trades, but master of none.
What did you study in school? Did you always plan on being a chef?
I didn't study in school; that's why I'm a chef. Study hard, kids!
Leatherby's Cafe Rouge is located at 615 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, (714) 429-7640; www.patinagroup.com.