A 20 year veteran of the kitchen, Chef Brian Sinnott cooked in some of San Francisco's best restaurants (Acquerello, Girl and the Fig, Jeremiah Tower's landmark Stars) before coming to San Diego to take the lead at Molly's Restaurant and Bar. In 2007, he became Chef de Cuisine of 1500 Ocean, garnering acclaim for the Hotel del Coronado's signature fine dining restaurant. Last year, just after the birth of his first child (another baby is on the way), Sinnott surprised the chef community by leaving 1500 Ocean to take a job in sales for a wholesale food distributor; Eater San Diego caught up with Sinnott to see if the siren song of the stove still calls to him.
Now that you've been out of the kitchen for a while, are you feeling settled in your job and the new direction of your career?
Am I at peace? Well, it's been a year and a half now...it was definitely a transition, but it's been good. The reason for it was the family and that's worked out really well. There's a whole other set of stressers that go along with this job; it's difficult to start something new at age 40, to switch gears after doing something for 20 years. As a chef, you have the last say on it all, you're in charge of everything. You don't have control when you're selling things; you do your best, but it's not your final decision.
Was having a child the main reason for your departure from the kitchen? Did you not feel that you could do it and still cook?
Yes, especially where I was at — the job at the Del was definitely consuming, holidays were a big part of that place. But the main reason was having my daughter and seeing if I could balance life a little better. For me as a chef, I go all in, so I couldn't really do things halfway.
How did the job with the distributor (L.A. and San Francisco Specialty) come about?
When I was in San Francisco, I was one of their first customers. I had a great relationship with some people in the company; I believe in what we do, it's more consultative than just a selling job so I still get to be creative.
How strange was it to go to the other side?
It was definitely strange, it's still a little strange. I just don't deal with restaurants, I deal with hotels, resorts, assisted living, corporate dining — anything that has food. Chefs in all those places are different, so I had to learn how other people do business.
What do you miss most about being in a kitchen?
I miss the creative aspect of it, but I cook at home more now than I ever have in my life. As a chef, I cooked at home maybe once a week at most.
I miss some of the camaraderie, not just with my own kitchen but with some of the other chefs in town — San Diego's a good town for that.
What do you not miss?
I don't miss being in four walls, or working 10 to 15 hours a day. Having time to enjoy life is nice.
But you still do some food events occasionally?
I do Celebrate the Craft and some Cooks Confab events. When Campine Catering first opened, I worked for them a little bit. It's still fun.
Is there any scenario in which you could see yourself back in a kitchen?
Never say never, but it would have to be the right situation. The Del was a pretty good job, you know, so where would you go from there? Owning your own place is kind of a scary proposition in this day and age, but I guess I wouldn't rule it out. But at this point, I'm happy.
Do you think about what kind of thing you'd like to do?
I don't think I've thought that far ahead yet but it would probably be a smaller, more hands-on thing. But we'd have to make money too.
Have you seen changes in San Diego food since you've left?
Since I moved here in 2005, things have changed a lot in the right way. We're more educated as a food city. Look at how many restaurants are doing the farm-to-table thing; it's been promoted to death a little bit, but it's good. Overall, I think the level of diners' understanding and willingness to try new things has increased; we still have a ways to go but we're moving in the right way.
· Brian Sinnott [Twitter]
· Brian Sinnott Leaves 1500 Ocean [U-T]