Even if you don’t know him by name, you have likely visited or driven by one of chef Joachim Splichal’s many award-winning restaurants and cafes: Norton Simon Cafe in Pasadena, Cafe Pinot at the Los Angeles Central Library and Pentimento at LACMA to name a few. The German-born Splichal, a San Marino resident, has been a restaurateur since he and his wife, Christine, opened their first restaurant, Patina, in 1989 on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. Today, Splichal’s Patina Group has more than 30 eateries in Southern California and beyond, with locations as far away as Palm Springs, Napa Valley and Las Vegas. Yet, as much as his empire has grown over the years, Splichal wants to assure people that the spirit of Patina has remained the same: good food and good people.
What are the philosophies that underlie the Patina Group?
Quality, quality, quality. It’s the philosophy we have always had. When we open a new place, we want to be hip and consistent . . . passion for food, passion for wine, passion for our clientele.
What has been your best compliment and harshest criticism?
I think the best compliment is always “I will be back.” And I think that’s how we grew. You always have harsh criticism from many people. I think you have to take them and learn from them and go on and try to make your enterprise better. People call me up and say they’re furious because their meal isn’t what they expected. I just did that [today], I talked to somebody who complained. I called them up, and I said, “I’m sorry, please come back,” etc. It’s the personal touch. They’re surprised I call, but I still do this. … Perhaps it’s all old-fashioned, but the company was built like this, and I don’t want to give that part up.
What would your fans be surprised to know about your food habits?
I love cheese. At home, I eat very simple. We eat all organic and go to the farmers market in Pasadena. And we cook very natural. A little bit of salt, pepper, olive oil — that’s it.
What is it about Southern California that makes it so unique in terms of cooking?
I think in Southern California you have an abundance of farmers, an abundance of fish. It’s all there. Even in the worst winter you can get the best produce at the farmers market. … Compared to New York, it gets shipped from here, but it’s an environment as a chef you can always create new things because there’s a whole generation of young farmers that grow new things that you can incorporate into your menu.
And how about the way we dine here?
I think the East Coast is much more exclusive, and dining means high-end restaurants. Here we don’t have many high-end restaurants. We have more neighborhood restaurants like trattorias, bistros and things like that. And I think we’re a little more different than the East Coast in that respect. We are [also] much more casual. I mean, you go to New York to a four-star restaurant, and everyone is dressed in a coat and tie, most of them black suits. Here you can go to any restaurant, [and] there’s already a certain casualness from a dress code standpoint. I mean, when I go out, I don’t want to dress up. I can’t go to a restaurant where someone would oblige me to wear a tie.
Is that why your home base is California?
I traveled a lot around the world and consulted and things like this, and I don’t really like to travel too much anymore. There were a lot of opportunities, and I was blessed to make a lot of good decisions … to open the [restaurants] and grow.
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