Interview by Claudia S. Palma
ROSE: What inspired you to be a chef?
Guiltinan: I watched cooking shows growing up. I started cooking at home, then I started working at a restaurant at 16 or 17 years old. I’ve worked from bartender to pizza delivery to management. I spent a year and a haIf as a prep cook and that was really good. It shaped who I am as a cook. I’m able to teach the new cooks coming out of school. I don’t do good following people, I gotta be at the top of the line. I worked at big corporation restaurants and they’re good for learning but not good for creativity. It’s very stressful and not rewarding. If you don’t get to reward yourself with the creativity side, you might as well sit in an office.
R: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Guiltinan: I always liked clams. Clams with a Spanish chorizo, some smoked paprika, a lot of wine (to cook with) and a heavy dark beer. I could eat that all day long.
R: What is it like for you working at a historical place like The Raymond?
Guiltinan: I love it. The cooking’s the fun part, especially at this place, you gotta be (at) the stoves all the time. The kitchen’s always alive — it doesn’t stop; the restaurant is closed but the kitchen’s still going. It can be a fun life. The relationships are very important, probably the most important ingredient that gets left out.
R: Have you always focused on seasonal/fresh ingredients when cooking?
Guiltinan: You gotta get the best ingredient. That’s your job. Yeah, there’s cost but the quality of the ingredient makes the difference — there’s a big margin with English peas. They’re expensive but it makes a difference in the end; people are gonna say, “these are some damn good peas.” Then there’s the relationships you build with the vendors. You have farmers and you know them, they know what you like.
R: What inspires you when creating a new dish?
Guiltinan: It changes all the time. My idea of what was cool five years ago is different from now. I make changes often. Sometimes you get inspired by a beautiful piece of fish. I’ll get inspired by the weather or by a line chef talk about something he ate. Sometimes inspiration comes from a new cookbook. It comes from a lot of things. I just went to Chicago and I ate, like, 100 hot dogs — they were some good hot dogs. Right there’s an influence.
R: Do you look to your kitchen staff for suggestions or ideas?
Guiltinan: Some people want to get creative and take chances and you don’t want to say no to that. I try to let them because I had a chef say no to me before and that wasn’t good. If you give them the tools, they can do it for you. They get to a point where they take pride in what they do. You want to instill pride in the kitchen.
R: How important is presentation to a chef?
Guiltinan: Presentation is very important. It’s visual art, you taste it, you smell it, you can feel the crunchiness — it carries several art forms into one. They say you first eat with your eyes. It’s enjoyment for me and the chefs (to plate a meal). Presentation is something you can’t really teach. It’s where the creative, artistic side of the individual chef comes out. Some of it’s how you want it to be (eaten), how you want it to taste, what kind of plate you have or how it’s gonna look sitting on the plate.
R: I notice a lot of seafood dishes on your blog (theraymondrestaurant.blogspot.com) and menu. Is that an influence from your travels to the Pacific Northwest or have you always enjoyed seafood?
Guiltinan: Seafood I really like. This restaurant has a long history of serving meat, I’m not a big meat guy. In this city, there’s a lot of meat. It’s a meat-and-potatoes city. We (at the restaurant) spend a lot of time looking for good seafood. There are guys up in Washington and Vermont who can get you beautiful fish, one day out of the water, fresh. Seafood’s big up there and I’m trying to push it here. We’re turning it now. We’re running out of fish almost every night.
R: Which state or city was your favorite for good food during your travels?
Guiltinan: I like the whole general area of the Pacific Northwest. California doesn’t have seasons but when you go up north, there’s a feeling of seasons. There’s gorgeous produce, they’re growing great wine and because of their proximity to the ocean they get great seafood. There’s a lot of good chefs, a lot of good restaurants. I just sort of enjoyed the general attitude towards food. There’s not a lot of corporate (restaurants) up there.
R: Any place you would like to visit? A dream culinary adventure to fulfill?
Guiltinan: Spain and Japan are probably the highest on the list. Spain’s an old country. They’re very good at producing olive oil and wines. They’re good at fishing and good at curing meats, sausages. That would be fun just to eat all that stuff. Can you imagine the cheeses there? Japan’s a good place because they’re a small island and they don’t have room to grow a lot of produce so they focus on high quality product. And they have very good seafood.
R: How would you describe the menu at The Raymond?
Guiltinan: I’ve heard it being called modern American; I don’t know what that means. I see American as a huge melting pot of different ethnic groups, different food and that’s what you get at The Raymond. You can go from sashimi to the 48-hour braised short rib here. We’re not something, we’re everything. We have the best seafood in Pasadena.
R: What’s next for you and The Raymond?
Guiltinan: We’re looking to hire a pastry chef right now. We’ll never do a menu change overall, but I’m always changing something on the menu. It’s not the same every time. It’s not good for the people (patrons), not good for the kitchen (the chefs), not good for the restaurant and not good for the vendors. We’re going through a lot of changes, all positive. I do have ideas of a grander scheme (he grins). I’d like to own my own place sometime but it’s a lot of struggle. At this moment, I’m very comfortable. It’s working for my family and that’s important.
R: If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
Guiltinan: Hopefully something outdoors. I’ve never been able to sit still very well. I have to be up and moving. Who knows? Riding a horse in Yosemite? A park ranger? (laughs)
The Raymond Restaurant, 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 441-3136, theraymond.com
(Photos by Keith Birmingham / Staff)