At the forefront of A’s continually updated menu is chef Jonathan Blackford, with whom bask chatted about his affinity for chef-driven concepts and the most important lessons he’s learned in his cooking career.
As told to Virginia Fay
What drew you to cooking?
My second cooking job was probably where I started to really enjoy the feeling of the rush. There was something about the whole environment that drew me in. The stress, pressure, heat, yelling, controlled chaos—it all gave me a feeling that not everyone could do this. The feeling after doing 300 covers [meals served to diners] and not making any mistakes was like nothing else I’d ever experienced, that’s what drew me in.
What or who is your biggest influence in the kitchen?
Marco Pierre White for a long time was probably my biggest influence, I have probably read The Devil in the Kitchen 10 times.
A’s menu changes four times a year. What inspires you when you’re updating it?
I try to keep up with new items being produced—new meats, new cuts of meats, and new trends. I rely heavily on my purveyors to constantly keep me up to date with all the new things hitting the markets. I also like to try new and progressive restaurants to see what other people are doing and trying.
What is your favorite meal when someone else is cooking?
Grilling on a charcoal grill, I don’t care what it is.
What sets A apart from other steakhouses?
First thing is how often we change the menu and the fact that we are not tied in to only using American-influenced food. We have Spanish, Mediterranean, Japanese, Mexican, French and more influences. Second, I believe that there isn’t one line of steaks where all the cuts taste great. We hand-pick each steak we use, from New York’s Akaushi beef to 1855 filets and using Japanese A5.
Which items on the menu are most popular, and what draws diners to them?
All of the steaks for sure (because that’s what we are known for), and the spicy tuna appetizer we sell a ton of as well.
What is your favorite dish on the menu at A?
My favorite appetizer on the menu is the Veal Breast Pierogi with house sauerkraut and chanterelles, and entrée is the pork chop.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your cooking career?
That you don’t fully understand a recipe until you know how to fix it or what’s missing from it. Understanding why you do each step is just as important as knowing how to do each step.
What do you look for when going out to eat?
A chef-driven concept where they create things with produce. My wife loves veggies, and I eat a lot of protein at work, so we try to find places with a good mix of vegetable dishes and meat dishes.
What are you most proud of in A’s development since you took on the executive chef role?
I’m very proud of how the food has progressed over the years. We constantly try to improve with new techniques, methods, equipment, ingredients, etc. I never want someone to say that our food is dated.
What do you think is the most exciting new culinary trend?
That people are now searching out chef-driven concepts and eating less at chains.
What do you have planned for your future with A?
Keep striving to do our best. We want to continue growing and providing the best products we can. Keep improving.
A RESTAURANT 3334 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, CA 92663 ~ 949.650.6505 | ARestaurantNB.com