San Diego

Ryan Johnston: Hot Chef in La Jolla

Nov 3rd 2010 11:15AM / by Nanette Wiser

La Jolla's chic Hotel Parisi hot factor is cooler thanks to award-winning Whisknladle (Condé Nast, Hot Tables 2008) and chef Ryan Johnston's stunning sleek bistro and people-watching al fresco patio.

Chef Johnston's innovative, locally sourced ingredients and dishes are heavy on fresh flavor and playful style without being fussy, a true farm-to-fork experience. His quirky menu changes weekly, ebbing and flowing seasonally, responding to the bounty culled from sustainable farm and ranch sources.

He believes food is the path to happiness: "Food truly does bring people together and I love re-creating a family dinner experience for people every night. That's why my food is never too fancy or intricate. I want the meal to be about the experience."

We chatted with chef Johnston about Whisknladle, what inspires him and his menu, and his favorite La Jolla spots to eat.

What's cooking at Whisknladle?
Sunday brunch, lunch, sunset menu from 3pm to 5pm or dinner, happy hour tapas and discount sangria, an ever-changing cornucopia of flatbreads, mussels, seared Maine scallops, pan-roasted escolar or a tasty tagliatelle Bolognese or squash ravioli. You might find pale ale-braised short ribs over spicy carrots and polenta or crisp chicken with saffron-laced risotto and harissa. We love the salads -- fig and persimmon, smoked chicken, heirloom tomato, and live for the pumpkin bread pudding and artisan cheese plate. Best of show cocktails are the cucumber and honey mimosa, lavender cosmo and pomegranate mojito.

Where I find my best stuff: Everything at Crows Pass and Chino Farms. It feeds my passion of creating something that I want to eat and then sharing it. I don't plan my menus ahead, I just go to the farms and see what's there.

What's in your home kitchen?
I cook at home a lot; it's my sanctuary. I eat a lot of vegetables and meats, love to grill and make stews and shop Whole Foods for their great seasonal produce.

What inspires you and your menu?
I read a lot of cookbooks, especially old ones even dating back to the 1800s, looking for ideas. I focus on ingredients they are using for inspiration instead of the preparation. Right now, I'm reading Lulu's Provençal Table by Richard Olney. Restaurants and chefs inspire me as well, such as Avec in Chicago's interesting combinations of ingredients; chefs Loretta Keller, Thomas Keller, Mario Batali as well as traveling and eating in Portland and San Francisco.

What's percolating in San Diego restaurants and bars?
I think we're about to break the seams of the culinary scene here. We have a lot of great chefs in this town and they are just starting to get grounded and grow. Jason Knibbs at NINE-TEN, Christian Graves at Jsix, Carl Schroeder at Market and Bankers Hill and because of all this, San Diego is going to be a bigger player on the national culinary scene.

Favorite hangouts?
NINE-TEN is my favorite restaurant and I love Zenbu for sushi.

Culinary trends you see?
Better value and food that tastes good, a back to basics approach, with inspiration from bistros and trattorias showcasing where food comes from. Even McDonald's is starting to do this!

Whisknladle, 1044 Wall St., La Jolla; 858-551-7575

Ryan's Favorites:
NINE-TEN , 910 Prospect St., La Jolla; 858-964-5400
Zenbu , 7660 Fay Ave., Suite 1, La Jolla; 858-454-4540

Favorite Hotels
The Pearl Hotel
Hotel del Coronado
1906 Lodge on Coronado
The Cosmopolitan Hotel
Andaz San Diego
Paradies Point Spa & Resort
Hotel Indigo San Diego
Hilton San Diego Bayfront
The Se San Diego
Porto Vista Hotel & Suites
The Grand Del Mar
Temecula Creek Inn

Everywhere Else
Anna Maria Beach Cottages
Epic Hotel Miami
Los Cabos Resort
Crystal River, Florida
Sanibel Beach Resort, Florida
Sonoma Mission Inn

Upcoming Events
San Diego Beer Week
The Old Globe Theater
Newport Jazz Festival
Clearwater Jazz Festiva