Well-established as one of San Diego's gold standards of seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine, Market Restaurant + Bar celebrates a milestone 10th anniversary this week, marked by a two-night 10-course dinner that surveys some of its most beloved dishes (a few tickets still remain for Thursday, November 10).
Opened in 2006, it was the first solo project from proprietor and executive chef Carl Schroeder. A San Diego native, Schroeder graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY in 1996 and subsequently cooked alongside famed Bay Area chefs Michael Mina and Bradley Ogden before returning to San Diego in 2002 to help Ogden launch Arterra Restaurant in Del Mar. During his tenure at Arterra, he was awarded the James Beard Foundation's Best Hotel Chef Series and developed a fervent local following. Since opening Market, which he now runs with partners Terryl Gavre and Steve Pagano (the trio also operate Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant), Schroeder has been a multi-year semifinalist nominee for James Beard Foundation's Best Chef Pacific.
Often described as a true chef's chef — more comfortable in the kitchen than working the dining room — Schroeder sat down with Eater to reflect on Market's last ten years and take a look forward into its future.
Can you rewind back to the point when you were first opening Market?
I was a chef but I knew I wanted something bigger — my own place that was all my menu, where I could make decisions without someone breathing down my neck. I was in a state of mind where I could do anything so I guess ignorance is really bliss. I didn't know any of the pitfalls, I was just like yeah, it's going to work. Without that kind of childish thinking I probably wouldn't be here today, so I try to get back into that mindset a lot — like taking risks with food and not worrying about if it will fail.
Was the restaurant always like the Market of today?
When we opened, the concept was more casual; the thinking was that we'd hit a lower price point and do more volume, and we were still operating under the name of the previous restaurant. But when people found out I was here, they said wanted my style food, the kind that I was doing up the street at Arterra. Even though my passion is creating a great plate of food regardless, I just wasn't getting that complete satisfaction. So we made a switch one day, it was a gentle ramp-up....we changed the name and continued to add in dishes. About three years in is when it felt really solidified; it was kind of a honeymoon year because people would come in without expectations and we'd just blow them away.
And have things been steady since then? Any highs or lows?
Its been at a steady pace since that third year. I like that we're busy but we have a second to breathe. We're dinner only so we can be really focused; John Thompson, my chef de cuisine, and pastry chef James Foran have both been with me 10 years, we meet before every shift to talk about the direction of the menu and share ideas.
You don't seem to seek the spotlight as eagerly as other chefs.
It's just not me. A production company was doing a casting call for a Food Network show and my picture was on the back of someone else's paperwork so they ended up calling me to do it; it didn't feel right but all my chefs were encouraging me. I shot two pilots and felt like I was pretending the whole time; my heart just wasn't in it. I like being a part of a team and I like the hard work. The payoff comes at the end of every night. That's how I get a feeling of accomplishment.
But Market does get a lot of local recognition and manages to draw national attention.
I think that's because of consistency. If I come in with my wife on a day off and eat through the menu, I will always have a list of things I want to fix. I'm constantly reworking things and seeing how we can do things better. And we challenge ourselves with new things all the time, whether it be from the land or the sea, to try and come up with something interesting and cool, but we don't just put something on the menu without being realistic with ourselves about how good it really is.
How has the concept of "farm-to-table" shifted since you first started?
I'm not sure if I know what it means anymore. Honestly, we're just looking for the best; produce is our number one expenditure and we use a ton of small farms. It's just what I've always done. I couldn't imagine having a menu that's not stimulated by what we're bringing in.
What's next with Market? Would you open another one or take on something new?
I would like to have Market for forever and ever, as long as we continue to do a good job for every guest. I've eaten all over the country and I know that what we do here is special.
But something popped up along the coast and we could do Market with an ocean view, it would be cool to have that draw along with the food.
And from a creative standpoint, I always have ideas. Once you stop dreaming, you become old and stale. If I did something new, it would probably be something completely different.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.