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Ryan Johnston On Taking Risks With Food

Good Morning, it's Industry Dish, a bi-weekly feature on Eater San Diego. In this space, our town's restaurant and bar pros weigh in on their favorite eats and drinks, give their thoughts on local food trends and talk about what it's like to work in the San Diego community. Know a chef or bartender who wants to do some sharing? Let us know.

Ryan%20Johnston%20new%20whisknladle.jpg[Ryan Johnson via Whisknladle]

A finalist in Eater San Diego's Hottest Chef competition, Ryan Johnston honed his cooking chops at restaurants across the nation, most notably serving as sous chef at Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Yountville, CA. In 2008, he and partner Arturo Kassel opened La Jolla's Whisknladle, and Johnston has overseen the operations and menu development of the pair's subsequent openings of three Prepkitchen restaurants. Johnston's recently returned to head up the kitchen at Whiskladle, which celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier this month.

What's your favorite thing on your menu right now and why?
Our Salad Paysanne — it's our 'chubby kid' salad, overindulgent by nature, but absolutely delicious. It's got pork croquettes, sweetbreads, duck confit, bacon, potatoes, lentils, frisee, beets and dijon vinaigrette.

Where do you like to eat when you're not working?
When I have time to go out and have a nice meal, I like to go to Nine-Ten in La Jolla and Hane in Banker's Hill. Jason Knibb at Nine-Ten is a real talent and while I've been lucky to be sent out some chef specials when I go in, I can recommend the slow roasted lamb loin, as well as the braised lamb shoulder and nettle tortellini.

Hane is hands down my favorite spot for sushi. I trust everything to Roger (Nakamura); what he sends out is always right on the mark. The sashimi plate with fried spot prawn or the spicy tuna on a fried rice cracker with ponzu are must-have items whenever I dine there.

Anything that you're "over" in terms of played-out restaurant and food trends or ingredients?
I'm a simple man, so anything that over-complicates food or service will make me sigh, i.e. molecular gastronomy, over-the-top mixology, etc. Both things can be done well, but if it's being done for the sake of the trend and is not executed well, the attempt alone becomes that much more disappointing.

Do you have a wish or request for the San Diego food scene or local diners?
We've got great eaters in San Diego, but I'd love to see a higher percentage of them be a little more open minded when dining out. San Diego is lucky in that it has a wonderful community of people trying to push the scene forward and for that to be successful, we need to encourage our current audience to go there with us. Any good restaurant should want to help diners create new experiences, but it's hard, especially when everyone's a critic.

We'd never judge anyone for taking a risk; we do it every day. So, really, what's the worst that can happen: a guest tries something new, hates it, and is able to make another selection from the menu? Doesn't sound so bad!

What makes cooking in San Diego different than other cities you've worked in?
No place is quite like San Francisco for me, but I made San Diego my home for a reason. In addition to the culinary community here, the produce here is some of the best in the world. I have a deep affinity for Chino Farm. I can identify with the passion they have and their need to always try new things. At the end of the day, they yield a great product and it makes my job that much easier. I'm able to skip worrying about the quality of my ingredients and get to the creative, cooking part that I love.
· Whisknladle [Official Site]
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Marisi Italiano

1044 Wall Street, La Jolla, CA 92037


1044 Wall St La Jolla, CA 92037 (858) 551-7575