Here's part two of our interview with George's At The Cove's Trey Foshee. Much of the produce from his daily Chino Farms shopping trips gets featured on the menu at TBL3, the chef's three nights a week dining experience within George's California Modern. The 12 to 24 course meal is an investment of time and money; dinners cost $170 per person and last four to five hours, but they're a chance peek into Foshee's true culinary personality and philosophy on food and revel in the art of cooking, and eating.
What was the impetus of starting TBL3?
I've been at George's for 15 years without moving, and usually the media is more interested in new restaurants and chefs going places, so it was partly to catch their interest.
On a busy summer day, we'll serve 1200 covers; we're a big restaurant, we've been here a long time and I think we do a good job with with casual food and more upscale dining. I've never wanted a little jewel box restaurant. I've always wanted to please, and affect, a wider range of people than concentrate on a very small demographic that can afford luxury dining. The last few years, those kind of restaurants have been getting even smaller, sometimes just 12 or 14 seats, and charging a lot of money.
So was it to show what you were capable of?
I felt that if I'd chosen to be in that environment, I could compete, but I chose not to be. From an ego perspective, you always judge yourself against other people in the industry; and because of that choice, I felt that I wasn't getting the recognition that I could have gotten.
I had a couple of dining experiences like that and thought that it was something we could really do. I started looking at the way those restaurants are structured, they control the guests' environment before the reservation is made. There's all these hoops you have to jump through as a guest; the restaurant is really dictating the entire process, it's not really inclusive. We've always been an all-inclusive restaurant, we take walk-in's and if you want your chicken breast without anything on it, we're happy to do that. We've always been on the opposite end of that spectrum so the TBL3 was about what were the controls we'd need to have in place if we wanted to execute at that level.
So what is the concept?
We can't really do more than one table a night because as busy as we are, if there were multiple reservations coming in a different times, we wouldn't be able to do a long extended tasting menus at that level. We decided that six people at the table is the max. As for what days of the week we would offer it, we scratched off Friday and Saturday because they're too busy and Sunday and Monday because I'm not there, so we settled on Tuesday through Thursday.
It forces us to look at food with a creative mindframe, which we try to do on a daily basis but the production in a restaurant doesn't always allow us to really focus. We'll work on concepts and the flow of the menu — highs and lows, acids then fats, vegetables then meat — so that you don't get palate fatigue halfway through and that's influenced our a la carte menu, the nightly chef's tasting menu and everything we do. Honestly, it's been way more successful that I thought.
When Eater interviewed you last year, you didn't seem worried if it would be successful or not...
I can't be, it's only one table a night. When we first started doing it, there were some naysayers out there — people saying that San Diego wasn't ready for it. But I think it's doing well. We don't really promote it but people hear about it by word of mouth and through the blogging community; it gets on their radar and they want to have the experience. We just had two tables drive down from Los Angeles; they drove to San Diego just for dinner. I think that's a good thing.
Speaking of Los Angeles, some local chefs say they get frustrated by the San Diego dining community, and that they can't be as creative in this town compared to other cities like LA or San Francisco. What do you say to that?
There's a conversation that needs to be had about who we are as a restaurant community. What is San Diego as a dining destination and who are we as a food town? People come to San Diego because of the lifestyle. When I first came to town, a lot of people would harp on fish tacos, like everybody knows San Diego for fish tacos and that's it. My opinion is if that's what we're known for, shouldn't we be a little more creative with it? The reputation of the fish taco isn't going anywhere, so instead of being naysayers we should embrace it, it's part of who we are.
If people aren't into what you're doing, then maybe you should question what you're doing. Our job as chefs is to make people happy, that's where you need to start from and then maybe you can branch out into other things. We can't be afraid to expose people to new things, but it has to align with where we are and who we're feeding.
· Chino Farms With Trey Foshee [~ESD~]
· George's At The Cove, TBL3 [Official Site]