MEET OUR NEW CHEF Sunday, December 28, 2014
Chef AJ, a native of Wyoming, moved to the San Diego in the waning years of the 20th century to pursue a career behind the line. After three years in SoCal, he took the executive chef’s position at CHIVE, where he was duly recognized by the James Beard Foundation (as one of its Rising Stars) and Southwest Magazine (as one of America’s Youngest and Brightest Chefs).
From there he went on to run the kitchens at San Diego’s W Hotel, downtown Portland’s RiverPlace Hotel and, until recently, the Benson Hotel. He also ran for a brief spell the Knuckle Dragger, a mobile paleo food truck known for setting up shop outside gyms and at contests that were home to aspiring and inspired cross-fitters.
Now that he’s calling The Original home, AJ says he plans on returning to the restaurant’s original creative roots, but with a more nuanced approach that’s as mindful of seasonality as it is of locally sourced meats and vegetables. And the first item on his agenda is a back-to-the-basics focus on doing things in house.
For instance, during his first week, he and his crew made their own brioche rolls, which sandwiched slow-cooked duck sloppy Joes as one of the joint’s daily Blue Plate lunch specials. They were very well received—thanks in part to buttering up and griddling those rolls not with butter, but with the duck’s own fat.
Chef AJ says his plan is to start baking all burger rolls in house, and he plans on grinding all hamburger meats in house, too because, as he says, “If you want to make a good burger in this town, you have to grind your own meat.”
Other plans for rounding out the menu are ways and methods to take regular but unfussy comfort food staples—macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, grilled cheeses—and turning them into something that makes them destination dishes.
Above all, though, he wants the kitchen’s motto to be “Eat simple. Eat clean.” So, even with the diner concept firmly in place, expect a departure from “greasy spoon” stuffs.