Paul McCabe Executive Chef T. Cook's at the Royal Palms www.tcooksdining.com
This week, we're talking with new T. Cook's executive chef Paul McCabe, who comes to the Valley after a decade in Southern California kitchens, most recently at La Jolla's La Valencia Hotel. It's been about a month since the restaurant and new bar officially re-launched, but the work's not over for McCabe. "There are a lot of eyes on this project," he says, admitting that he's still nervous about how the hotel's longtime guests and fans will take to the changes. Today, we hear about the vision behind the restaurant's reboot. Come back Tuesday, when we hear about his experience working with Michel Blanchet.
Being a chef at a resort restaurant isn't easy. And it definitely isn't for everyone. Usually, there's a lot of structure, which some chefs say stifles creativity, and unlike at high-concept restaurants that can afford to operate at a loss, money really matters.
But for T. Cook's executive chef Paul McCabe, it's a perfect fit.
"I just fell into it," he says of the hotel industry. "And I love it."
For nearly his entire career, McCabe has worked in the resort environment, often as part of a team that helps struggling hotels and their restaurants reinvigorate -- and often entirely reboot -- themselves. For the past 12 years, he's worked in some of Southern California's best kitchens, including and most notably at L'Auberge Del Mar's Kitchen 1540 and, prior to that, L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills where he was part of $65 million renovation project. He's also cooked at the James Beard House four times and was recognized as a "rising star of American Cuisine" by the James Beard Foundation
In short, he pretty good at this stuff. Not that it made him any less nervous about coming in to change what's undoubtedly one of the Valley's most iconic restaurants.
For years, T. Cook's has been a go-to spot for romantic nights out or a luxurious Sunday brunch. In other words, it hasn't been the kind of place you go to for just any old reason. And that's exactly what McCabe says they're trying to change.
"We need to break that mold," McCabe says.
That meant getting rid of the white tablecloths and introducing a new vibrant color scheme in the chairs, tables, and artwork. The food has moved away from the strictly Mediterranean vibe to become "New American with a Mediterranean twist." The new vision will give McCabe more liberty with flavors but will ensure things stay true to the resort's overall theme.
But how exactly does a chef begin planning a "New American" and Mediterranean menu?
McCabe uses a technique we can best compare to diagramming sentences. He begins with a single ingredient written on a piece of paper and then starts adding off-shoots with other potential ingredients and flavors. He says it's a sort of culinary brainstorming session with other chefs, the only rules being that any new flavors added to the diagram have to jive with those already listed. And they have to fit in with, in this case, the Mediterranean theme. Saffron? Okay. Yuzu? Not so much.
One thing most people don't know about you: I play the drums and love to mountain bike!
The last thing you watched/read: Watched -- Mind of a Chef. Read -- I don't have time to read! Hahaha.
Favorite childhood food memory: Cooking and baking with my mom.
Your biggest influence or inspiration: Daniel Boulud.
Who's your mentor and how do they influence your cooking today?: Michel Blanchet was a master of sauces and during my time with him, that is what I gravitated toward. Chef Blanchet is the one who made me the saucier I am today.
One thing you can't cook without: Good extra virgin olive oil.
What tattoos do you have and why did you get them?: I have done some traveling and try to get ink in every country.
Your favorite food-related book and why: Modernist Cuisine is a great resource book.
The food trend you're totally over: Cupcakes, Brussels sprouts, and flowers.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
The biggest challenge you've faced in your career and how you overcame it: I've been a part of several restaurant openings and they are all challenging! I think the key is to remain fluid and keep your eye on the common goal.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay