Kerstin Kühn: Interview with Daniel Patterson

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th September 2015
Daniel Patterson is the chef proprietor of Coi, the famous two-Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco. He talks to Kerstin Kühn about his recent announcement that in January next year, he will step out of the kitchen at Coi to concentrate on his other restaurant projects as well as a new fast food venture called LocoL, which will open its first outlet in Watts, one of Los Angeles’ roughest neighbourhoods, later this year. You spent almost a decade building up Coi to the world-renowned restaurant that it is today. What led you to the decision to step away from it?14190933703_e039ca6bf1_m It’s a decision that is based on a number of factors and not one that I made just for myself. Basically I got to the point where I realised that it was what I had to do to be able to fulfil the responsibilities I have to other people. I’ve been really lucky with my career and the success I have had so I feel very fortunate and I don’t have any regrets at all. There’s nothing I didn’t do or didn’t accomplish that I wish I had done. But I do feel that this is in the best interest of my family, the restaurant and my other projects. I will definitely be sad not to be cooking at Coi anymore. But I’m not done cooking; this is not the end of my career. So it’s not quite as dramatic as it may sound. You say that you have no regrets leaving Coi. But having held two Michelin stars for eight consecutive years, do you feel that getting a third star could have been within reach? I can’t answer that; you’d have to ask Michelin. I have eaten at two- and three-star restaurants all around the world and I know where we are in an objective way. Whatever Michelin decides to do is not up to me and it’s not really part of my thinking. To me chasing awards is a fool’s errand – it diminishes the real work that needs to be done. Michelin featured iamgeIf you step back from the media frenzied filter on the world and look at my career, you see someone with no formal training, who started as a dishwasher and never worked in any great kitchens but was eventually able to gain two Michelin stars and a place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. There is just no way you can say that that is insufficient in any way. And any further advancement to me is really only an incremental improvement that, in the scheme of things, is very small. Tell us about Matthew Kirkley, the ex-head chef of the two-Michelin-starred L20 in Chicago, who will take your place at Coi next year. Matthew is an incredibly talented young chef, who is very ambitious. The values we hold dear at Coi – dedication to craft, humility and hard work – are as important to him so I feel like the transition will happen with a lot less disruption than people might think. Of course, Matthew’s cooking is different to mine so the food will change but the spirit and essence of the restaurant will not change. Matthew cooks the kind of food and at the level that he should get three stars. In fact if he doesn’t get it, I would be shocked. It is my responsibility as the restaurant owner to support him in that process and ensure that everything around him is really dialled in. I can see that from the outside looking in, perhaps it could seem like I would feel overshadowed if that were to happen but that’s not the case at all. I want that. If Coi gets more accolades with Matt than it did with me then it was a good decision [to employ him].12823737943_f79b469cb6_m In addition to the other restaurants you own as part of the Daniel Patterson Group (DPG), you are also launching a fast food concept called LocoL together with Roy Choi. What will be on the menu? Structurally the menu is divided into different parts and it’s pretty ambitious for what it is. Once we start getting into volume we’ll see what is realistic and what isn’t. We have burgs, which are sandwiches, and there’s a veggie burg, fried chicken burg and bbq turkey burg. Then there’s a section of bowls and that includes crushed tofu and veggie stew over rice; chilli over rice; and a pasta dish made in a wok, which is like a California version of Zha Jiang Mian. Then there’s a section called foldies, which is a cross between a quesadilla and a tortilla. There’s also a 99c section, which could be a side of rice or a side of braised greens. Basically instead of doing sides like chips or fries we wanted to do something with more nutritional value. But the food is the least interesting part about LocoL. It’s what everyone is focusing on from the outside but if I’m honest, it’s food I can cook in my sleep. What’s the real essence of LocoL then? TartineChad-DP-RC-ReneRed - resizedI’ve been spending a lot of time in the Watts community [in Los Angeles where the first LocoL will open later this year] and it has been a very eye opening and humbling experience to see that this is a very different America, one that nobody talks about or recognises. It’s a completely neglected, disenfranchised community and it’s extremely difficult to open a business here because there is no infrastructure to support it. What I’ve come to realise is that structural discrimination in America is such a huge part of our culture that you don’t even begin to understand it until you start delving in layer by layer. It’s like this rotten onion and beneath every layer you peel away there’s another one that’s just as bad. Watts is one of those places that America has failed and where hope has been left behind. No matter how hard the community leaders are working to change things, they’re unable to succeed because the entire infrastructure is pushing down on them. It’s like you’re under water with an 800-pound weight on you and people are saying: “Why don’t you just swim to the shore?” How are you hoping to impact communities like Watts with LocoL? Every time I’m there and I talk to some of the youngsters in the neighbourhood, the same thing happens. They ask what we are doing and when I say we’re opening a restaurant their response is: “No way, I don’t believe you!” The last time I was there someone asked me whom I was hiring and I said: “You.” You see them get excited but then they say things like: “Don’t lie to me.” Because they have been lied to so many times before. So what I have realised is that what’s most important about this project is the human aspect of creating jobs within the community and making the business part of the community; reinvesting and giving the community the opportunity to create its own success. It’s such a powerful thing to realise that we have an opportunity to be a part of this and we are taking it very seriously. I’m stepping out of one of the best restaurants in the world so I can go and be the chef at a fast food restaurant in Watts. I think it’s something that is meaningful. Kerstin_Kuhn Kerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_ >>>Read more of Kerstin's blogs here.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th September 2015

Kerstin Kühn: Interview with Daniel Patterson