Eater caught up with Burke, who oversees the kitchen at The Pearl Hotel's signature restaurant, EAT at The Pearl, to talk about his culinary philosophy, San Diego restaurant culture and why he think his food is still under the radar.
Where were you cooking before San Diego?
I spent most of my time in central Virginia, where I was the chef and had an ownership stake in two restaurants in the same building, upstairs was fine dining and a bistro was downstairs. When the recession hit in 2008, my partner and I decided to sell.
What brought you here?
My wife's brother lives in San Diego so we decided to give it a shot. The food scene was up and coming and the product is great. Within a day of moving here in 2010, I was actually staging at The Pearl with the previous chef before getting a job at the Omni Hotel downtown. I worked there for about a year and then opportunity came to take over the chef position at The Pearl, so I jumped on it.
[Jaison Burke, courtesy photo]
What's your definition of underrated and why do people think the term applies to you?
We're off the beaten path here in Point Loma, so we stay a bit under the radar. I think over the past six years we've seen some recognition but we're not in a heavily foot-trafficked area; we're more of a destination so sometimes people can overlook us.
What have you done to give the restaurant more notice?
We stay really true to ourselves and don't rush to follow trends or jump on the latest bandwagon. We try to make the food authentic and let the ingredients speak for themselves. I think we have a high quality of service here too.
Do you ever get upset when you see other restaurants get more attention?
Not really, I think we're doing well here. We're always busy, it's always full. We have a great burger but we're not a burger place, people still come here for a nice dining experience. I'm happy to be able to change the menu every three months to keep up with seasonality and not be locked into a static menu. I don't think we need to be known as the next hotspot; at the end of the day, we just want to be the best we can be.
What's the best thing about cooking at The Pearl?
The freedom that the company has given me. I'm able to do what I want with the menu and I've got a great team to back it up. The fact that we're only 64 seats with a 12 person bar allows us to never have to compromise the quality of what we're doing with huge numbers, and that's a really important aspect to me. Here, we're able to scrutinize each plate to make sure it goes out correctly and I appreciate that.
Anything frustrating about San Diego?
I've been lucky to keep a consistent staff but I do wish that we were able to pay the back of the house a little more. I think that a lot of times the back of the house folks can get discouraged about the amount of funds we're allowed to allocate to them for the hard work they put in.
Do you feel like you're able to challenge yourself creatively and have it be well-received by diners?
Absolutely, I think people are extremely receptive to the food we do here. There's a population of San Diego diners who are looking to try new things and innovative dishes. When I put new dishes on the menu that I call "items for me" like pizzoccheri, this semi-obscure buckwheat pasta dish from Northern Italy, people ordered it and I appreciated that.
Have you found your community of chefs?
There's camaraderie within the industry with all the chefs in town who are really working to advance the scene. They've come in to help me when we have a new menu push-out or I've donated my time to their pop-up's.
Who are some of your favorite underrated chefs?
I think Tommy Fraioli from Sea Rocket Bistro is a really talented young guy. La Villa's Anthony Sinsay is doing one of the best jobs of plating food right now. Dana Francisco at Uptown Tavern is darn underrated and deserves more credit.
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