One week: two down. First Daniel Barron announces he is leaving Blush effective immediately. Next, Chad White — on the eve of the debut of his season of Top Chef — announces he is moving back to his hometown of Spokane, Washington. And he is doing so next week. It was a sad sack of days for those of us who care about good plates of food in San Diego.
It is sad because it will be a lot more difficult for San Diegans to taste what these two very talented Chefs have to offer. From White’s days at Roseville and Sea Rocket Bistro and Barron’s at Blue Point, through their respective pop-ups (Plancha BajaMed and Evolve) to their more recent gigs (White at Común Kitchen and La Justina and Barron at La Valencia and Blush), San Diegans have been able to taste their food for the better part of the last decade. That is about to change.
There has been room enough for some to suggest these Chefs brought it on themselves. The head of one local food-centric group, for example, accused me of being a bit too romantic (in far more scatological terms) for bemoaning the loss of these Chefs’ culinary talents. And there is, no doubt, reason to question the tendency to reward those who excel behind the stove with the leadership of kitchens requiring markedly different skill-sets. The resumes of White and Barron — as well as the departures from their recent restaurants — make it easy to view their departures from these most recent restaurants as some sort of “failure.” It is also, beside the point.
Regardless of anything involving the business of food the bottom line is that I am going to miss the food of Chad White and Daniel Barron. Barron’s omnivorous approach to technique — from modern gastronomy with an emphasis on flavor rather than dazzle to his ambitious dry-aged meat programs at La Valencia and Blush — brought to the table something we just have not had much of in San Diego.
White’s precise, forward looking take on the new cuisine of Baja played a vital role in the local development of a cuisine that could well come to be a defining focus of San Diego’s food scene. For many in San Diego, White’s food will have been their first exposure to this sort of refined approach to Mexican flavors.
While it is not exactly clear where Barron will end up, the smart money is probably not on San Diego. The picture is clearer for White. He will still continue his involvement in Tijuana’s La Justina and in Craft Pizza Company, but he is moving back to his hometown — Spokane, Washington — to open a new 40-50 seat chef-driven restaurant called Native Post & Provisions.
As I’ve previously written, the life of a professional cook is not about creativity and fame but rather is defined by hard work and low pay, day after day. The reality stands in stark contrast to the picture painted in the media. It may be tempting to label a chef’s departure as a “failure” — and it may even be so — but the desire to return home and to a better life certainly seems understandable.
But it still saddens me to have those flavors leave with them.