Guild chef talks about his inspiration for seafood-driven restaurant opening next week

Chef Sterling Ridings went home to find the inspiration for the menu at the seafood-driven Guild. Literally. And figuratively.

After a brief period working out ideas in a temporary kitchen, the head chef and partner at the new restaurant from the Chameleon Group (Swift’s Attic, Wu Chow), retreated to the kitchen at his house, testing out recipes on his family and getting in touch with the cooking that first inspired him.

Credit: Chameleon Companies

Diners will get a chance to see where the exploration led the Parkside and Uchiko veteran chef when Guild opens in the mixed-use building at Lamar Boulevard and 38th Street on March 9.

Ridings worked for Hai Hospitality for more than a half-dozen years, ascending from unpaid stage at Uchi to executive chef at Uchiko. Around the time he decided to leave Tyson Cole’s demi empire and forge a new path, he was introduced to the Chameleon Group partners, who had in mind a restaurant with oyster and raw bar. Ridings had an obviously impressive history working with sushi, but he took the opportunity to consider how he wanted the next iteration of his voice to sound.

The sanctuary of his home kitchen meant less cooking sous vide, and more pan-roasting and oven-roasting. He put aside the modernism that had come to define the most recent years of his career and returned to the roots he planted learning to cook from 2007 to 2009 at Parkside under Shawn Cirkiel.

“We’re able to go back to a lot of more fundamentals of cooking, which I think is extremely important,” Ridings said. “It’s been pretty cool to go back to cooking like I did at Parkside.”

Guild’s menu will be seafood-centric (the sea accounting for about 60 percent of the menu and a raw bar). Ridings wants to use American seafood predominantly, sourcing from all the coasts, including as much Gulf seafood as possible.

Ridings loves fish for the protein’s versatility, but he always has been most interested in cooking with vegetables, utilizing ingredients that once seemed exotic but have become part of the culinary lexicon for chefs of his generation. What once might have carried the label of fusion can now be seen as a chef’s organic perspective.

Ridings has long pulled from the global palette to realize his vision, so diners can expect anything from raw oysters with green Szechuan peppercorn mignonette to hanger steak marinated with ginger, jalapeño, rosemary and dark beer or toasted coriander tofu.

“We are in a space right now where people are willing to go on this trip with us and trust us,” Ridings said.

The lessons Ridings has taken from his mentor Cirkiel and Cole and Paul Qui will guide his philosophy. While he learned the importance of the basics from Cirkiel, from Cole Ridings gleaned the way to develop brightness and balance and to refine presentation.

Ridings hopes to take Cole’s “perfect bite” philosophy, which informs all that Hai does, and apply it to larger dishes. This might translate to diners experiencing a variety of perfect bites that build throughout a dish such as brioche-crusted halibut on a plate with roasted broccoli and deviled trumpet mushrooms.

After constructing his menu and getting back to his roots in his home kitchen, Ridings has no interest in abdicating his role in the kitchen.

“We’re in this really strange space, culturally and culinarily … you spend all this time trying to perfect this craft of cooking and then once you reach a certain space, you stop and expedite food and tell people what they’re doing wrong instead of cooking your food and coaching people in real time during the process,” Ridings said.

He wants to do away with that notion.

“I don’t tell people, ‘I’m a chef.’ I tell them, ‘I’m a cook.’”

(Guild is at 3800 N. Lamar Blvd. #170. The restaurant offers valet parking on 39th Street, as well as self-parking in the garage on Medical Parkway. Guild will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)

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Interview: Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold, the longtime restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times whose 2007 Pulitzer Prize is the only one ever awarded to a food critic, explores the diverse dining landscape of his native Los Angeles in filmmaker Laura Gabbert's documentary "City of Gold." Credit: IFC Films
Jonathan Gold, the longtime restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times whose 2007 Pulitzer Prize is the only one ever awarded to a food critic, explores the diverse dining landscape of his native Los Angeles in filmmaker Laura Gabbert’s documentary “City of Gold.”
Credit: IFC Films

Jonathan Gold is used to asking the questions. The restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times has made a 30-year career of weaving captivating tales about food (and music) and the people who make it.

But the roles were reversed after filmmaker Laura Gabbert convinced the dry-witted and brilliant storyteller to allow cameras to follow him as he explored the diverse dining landscape of his native Los Angeles for the documentary “City of Gold.”

What happens when the examiner becomes the examined?

“It was more than slightly weird,” Gold said recently by phone. “It’s kind of fun to be on the other side, though, I guess. I recommend it. If you have a chance, you should try it.”

Cute sentiment, but something tells me when the history of film is written, the list of documentaries about individual journalists will be a short one.

Gold, whose 2007 Pulitzer Prize is the only one ever awarded to a food critic, is more than just a journalist, though. He’s a cultural anthropologist who uses food as a lens through which to examine the myriad cultural influences of Los Angeles. He responds with modesty to the classification.

“Other people call what I do cultural anthropology; I’m just a restaurant critic,” Gold said. “I don’t put a higher meaning on what I do.”

Gold is demure in his rejection of the label, but Gabbert’s film, which shows the critic giddily bouncing from Mexican to Korean restaurants, reveals the critic as a deeply informed lover of food who serves as a conduit between cooks and diners. He investigates and interprets the food, its provenance and cultural context, and then teaches and entertains his readers.

Continue reading the interview at MyStatesman.com.

The documentary “City of Gold” is currently screening at the Regal Arbor. You can read my review here

A chat with … newly minted Master Sommelier June Rodil of MMH

June Rodil is one of 147 Master Sommeliers in North America. (Credit: Eric Morales)
June Rodil is one of 147 Master Sommeliers in North America. (Credit: Eric Morales)

June Rodil is not a crier. But her steeliness crumbled earlier this month when she found out she passed the grueling master sommelier exam.

“I’m pretty stone-cold. I’m a gameday player. But the moment they tell you you’re finished, you fall apart,” Rodil said. “It was very momentous and very special.”

The notorious test represents one of the most difficult professional hurdles in the world of food and beverage service. Rodil, beverage director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality group (Jeffrey’s, Perla’s, Clark’s, et al), started her four-stage journey to the achievement eight years ago while working at Uchi.

“This is probably the first thing you’ve really had to work at,” Rodil said her father told her after she received her results. That’s saying something considering the Manila native and University of Texas graduate was an exceptional student who was accepted to law school in a previous life and has worked with several of Austin’s finest restaurant groups, including La Corsha (Congress), Qui and Uchi.

Rodil was one of only seven sommeliers to earn her master sommelier pin, the pinnacle achievement of the wine industry. It was Rodil’s third attempt to earn the accreditation. She joins a group of 147 master sommeliers in North America and became the seventh such expert in Texas. Whole Foods’ Devon Broglie and ELM Restaurant Group’s Craig Collins earned their pins in 2011.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as a way of improving the standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants, implementing levels of specialization that people in the industry can reach, and master sommelier is the highest.

Rodil says the accreditation from the Court of Master Sommeliers gives legitimacy to the position of being a beverage professional.

“We’re not just drunks,” she joked.

Rodil became just the third woman in Texas to earn the master ranking and one of fewer than two dozen in North America. While she acknowledges that it’s special to be among the group, Rodil doesn’t view the achievement through a gender-specific lens.

“I don’t want to belittle the importance of it, because I don’t want to deter any other women from doing it. But I don’t want more women to do it just because of the exclusivity,” Rodil said. “I want women to do it because they want to do it and know that they can. … It is very special. What it should show is that it should be OK for a woman to want to do this.”

In preparation for the exam, which took place in Aspen, Colo., Rodil studied at least four hours a day for the three month leading up to the test. She studied with a group of friends who would have Skype conference calls for more than two hours every other day as they created sample tests for one another.

“It’s why we do it,” Rodil said of the camaraderie of her industry peers with whom she endured the process. “The bonds that you make when you’re studying for this test are like the bonds I made when I met my best friends in high school.”

Rodil’s close friends and mentors were on hand when she received the news, making the day even more special, and each of her former bosses called to congratulate her.

So, how does a beverage expert celebrate completing such a difficult task?

Following her test, Rodil partied in her hotel room with friends, drinking Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year from the bottle as well as Musigny Blanc 2011.

The woman knows her stuff.