We continue our in-person interview with James D'Aquila, tracing his culinary background to the early '80s. He also shares some insight on choosing artichokes as his restaurant's signature ingredient. To read part one, click here. Stay tuned for our final installment, in which James finally breaks down the dish we keep seeing in those photos.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Never give up.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
Handmade pappardelle, Bolognese sause and a bottle of red with my loved ones.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
My wife, Lori, and son, Jack. They let me work as hard as I do.
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I have 30 years of experience. In 1980, I worked at a fish house in Connecticut. At the age of 18, I made my decision, and I knew it was going to be a long haul. I attended the Culinary Institute of America in 1983. In 1984, I worked at Fine Bouche in
France Centerbrook. From there, I was at Engine Co. No. 28 under Ed Kasky. He was a mentor to me. In 2000, I opened the Wild Artichoke, and we'll be celebrating 11 years in August.
How does Yorba Linda remind you of your hometown?
It's a little rural. . . . The trees are nice.
Why choose artichokes?
They're tough, but they have a heart.
Is there something in your everyday cooking they don't teach you in culinary school?
They never taught us how to work a 20-hour day. You've got to fly.
If each of your signature dishes comes from a place in your past, then what is the story behind the pan-roasted escolar?
It came from when we first opened. We were originally using halibut, but I couldn't see spending $20 [per pound] at that time. So we switched to escolar.
What dish would you tell newcomers to the Wild Artichoke to try first?
Anything. Follow your heat. [He wouldn't even say what was a bestseller.]
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business, and why?
I can't see anything, really. I'm a restaurant rat.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Don't look at the clock. Forget about time. There's no such thing as measuring time.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Maybe another restaurant. Also, writing and singing more songs.