In an ode written to young, aspiring cooks throughout the United States and the world, Esquire magazine Restaurant Critic John Mariani pens an appreciation to a veteran chef of Hispanic decent that has forever altered the way that the world understands and appreciates the history and culture of Latin foods. From the Esquire awards site, Mr. Mariani writes the following:
Dear young chef: Congratulations on your graduation from culinary school! Unless you’re busy competing on a TV show to become a celebrity chef, the smart move would be to apprentice yourself to a master like John Sedlar. He’s twice your age, but he cooks with more verve and a deeper understanding of ingredients than any ten cooks you went to school with. He was born in Santa Fe and always married Mexican and South American food with a southern-California swagger — cutting edge neo-Latino cuisine. At Playa, his thrilling new restaurant, he presents reflexiones (his translation: "windows into memories"), thematic dishes that reflect his favorite chefs or movies — A Clockwork Orange was a recent theme. After you get your pig tattoo, order a mess of tortillas he calls "maize cakes" — one is made with wild mushrooms, black garlic, olives crushed to look like soil, L’Explorateur cheese, and mushroom foam. Try to assess the delicacy of a dish like corn custard with Cotija, black quinoa, and squash-blossom sauce, and learn how he builds flavor into piquillos relleñoswith Gruyère, golden raisins, and chorizo. Then beg him for a job peeling vegetables.
Chef Sedlar owns two restaurants in Los Angeles, California – the critically acclaimed RIVERA in downtown Los Angeles, and the new Playa, named by Esquire as among the Best New Restaurants in America. These awards arrive on the heels of the Thirtieth Anniversary of his historic Saint Estephe Restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California, a dining room that was the first American restaurant to witness foods such as the tamale and the blue corn tortilla – indeed, the foods of his childhood – served in a fine dining, white tablecloth restaurant. The month long retrospective enjoyed a wealth of media attention, honoring Chef Sedlar as one of the primary architects of Modern Latin & Southwest Cuisines.
Upon being named the first chef of Hispanic origin to receive this award, Mr. Mariani generously suggested that the award was not simply in recognition of the two critically acclaimed restaurants currently doing business in Los Angeles, but for a lifetime of commitment to the chef’s Hispanic heritage, indeed of introducing the foods, culture, and history of Latin cuisine into the popular culture of American diners.
When speaking of the importance of opening his first LA restaurant (since Saint Estephe, thirty years earlier) in the downtown historic district, Chef Sedlar was emphatic, offering that “It was critical. Downtown Los Angeles is the crossroads of culture, heritage, race, and ethnicity. It is the place where an entire world of Hispanic American’s arrived to settle and form homes, and families, and careers. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”