The highly-coveted post at one of San Diego most talked-about restaurant projects has been filled. Meet Jon Sloan, who will be Juniper & Ivy's chef de cuisine when the restaurant opens in March.
Sloan, who was most recently the executive chef/partner at Roy's San Diego Waterfront, has been cooking in San Diego for six years; he spent most of his formative culinary time in the Pacific Northwest, working in well-regarded kitchens.
The chef, who'll work alongside Juniper & Ivy exec chef/partner, Top Cheffer and new San Diegan Richard Blais, recently sat down to chat with Eater about his cool new gig.
What's your impression of the San Diego food scene?
It's growing as a whole. You're seeing more chefs foraging, like Trey has done up at George's in La Jolla; that mentality used to exist in very small pockets. And the microbrew scene is bringing people along, in a round-about way it has raised the food scene up. There's a lot of things happening. I'm a foodie, I go to South Park and North Park to check out what's going on there. I think Clairemont Mesa and Convoy Street is quite possibly the best area for food in San Diego. I think the food scene has grown exponentially. I'm not sure if San Diego would have been ready for Juniper & Ivy four years ago, but it's ready for us now. It's not like we're trying to reinvent the wheel or be Alinea, we're going to focus on "left coast cookery"; without being cliche about it, our food will really be ingredient-driven. The menu's going to change every day, at least 15 to 35 percent of it will rotate. We don't plan on getting anything from outside of the West Coast; we're staying true to that over anything else. We want to have aspects of fine dining, and the kind of service and focus that you would find in New York City, but remove any pretense and not take ourselves too seriously. What we'll take really seriously is the food, the wine service and the cocktail program because that's what makes a successful restaurant. We're trying to amass the best talent in San Diego; I'm really impressed with the people that have been coming our way and we're still open and looking for more local staff.
What are some things you might introduce to San Diego?
I think more than anything we want to stay true to the town. One example is In-N-Out Burger, an institution. How can we play with it in a way that's fine dining and delicious but not take ourselves too seriously? Maybe we take dry-aged fat and incorporate that into the grind and do something inspired by their grilling with mustard, animal-style, and still make it comforting but also blow your mind. Creating that niche is something we're looking at.
So you'll do a play on a fish taco too?
I surf a bunch and own a little place in Baja. I'm in love with Mexican food. In fact, I won't even eat tacos in San Diego anymore; not that there aren't great places here, but I can drive down to the border and go to Las Ahumaderas, or "taco alley". So if you're going to do an ode to the fish taco, it's got to be something that no one else can do. It's got to be done in such a whimsical, startling and thought-provoking way. We've discussed it and it's in the R&D phase, but there's a 90 percent chance that it wouldn't be on the opening menu. We've even talked about the San Diego Chicken, from the Padres; maybe we smoke chicken under a dome with local pine. We're not trying to be overly grandiose or arrogant about things, we just want to help change the conversation as far as food is perceived. The fact that I can be Richard Blais' right-hand man in an honor.
What were some deciding factors in choosing you for the post?
I think my passion for food, I get religious about it. I'm passionate about what people put in their bodies and where it comes from. My background in the Pacific Northwest was about really being true to the farmers and true to the seasons. And I have a lot of experience in different concepts. I ran a very large restaurant in San Diego that was still considered fine dining, was able to manage a staff and costs, and still be true to a chef's vision. I cooked for the owners a few times and I think they really liked how I look at food.
Do you have experience with modernist cuisine and how much will that factor into the menu?
I have a lot of experience it in because I was given a lot of free reign at Roy's and I was inspired by elBulli and Alinea; the advent of the internet exposed me to so many techniques. It definitely changed the way that I perceive food. It's not going to be the driving force, but where we feel we have to utilize it, we will. If something calls for it, texture-wise, we will. We're going to be playful, liquid nitrogen will definitely show up, but the ingredients will always be the star. We won't do something just for the sake of doing it, we'll do it if it makes something better.
Do you think some of the more out-there techniques be received well by local diners?
I think the menu's going to be wide enough that not everything is going to be "Oh my god, what is this". There's going to be the opportunity to have lots of different experiences in one restaurant, but all on a certain level. We're hoping to take this large-scale restaurant and make it seem like a 40-seat restaurant by executing technique-driven food with finesse. If San Diego ready for really thought-out, delicious food in a gorgeous space - done by Richard Blais, one of the best chefs in the country - then yes.
How much do expect Blais to be in the kitchen with you?
I hope as much as possible. From every conversation that we've had, it sounds like he's going to be here as often as he can. Obviously he has a ton of stuff going on but this is his focus. He's putting down roots in San Diego.
What's the latest timeline for opening?
We're hoping to open on Monday, March 3. The chefs and I should be able to get in the kitchen next month to finish the final nuances of the menu and start working with ingredients that are coming into season; we should be able to do some soft opening dinners by the end of February.
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