In September, two popular San Diego restaurants, The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar and The Wellington Steak & Martini Lounge, welcomed a new executive chef, Karrie Hills. Her fresh spin on traditional cuisine and passion for using fresh ingredients from local farmers make her the ideal chef for these farm-friendly restaurants. Read our interview to learn more about Chef Hills, San Diego’s food culture, local trends and more.
TriMark R.W. Smith: We want to congratulate you on your new position! As the new chef in two popular San Diego restaurants, what novel and fresh ideas will you be using to inspire patrons?
Karrie Hills: I’m going to be using the abundance of fresh ingredients from The Red Door Family Garden as my plate inspiration. I’m also going to be merging my classic French background and farm-to-table cooking.
RWS: Previously, you worked in Paso Robles, north of Santa Barbara. How has working in San Diego compared?
KH: I believe that there’s a real culinary movement happening with farm-to-table and educating our children about what’s happening with our food: the mass production and overwhelming amount of processed food that’s being created to feed everybody. The emphasis on nutrient-dense food here is similar to that in Northern California. People are aware of the ingredients. They seek a better quality of life.
RWS: Are there any local culinary trends that took you by surprise?
KH: The San Diego culinary community is nichey and powered by a modest number of chefs, even though it’s small. There are hundreds of restaurants, but an elite few are making it happen and I want to be part of that charge.
RWS: Any that took you by surprise?
KH: The pretzel bun for burgers. *laughs*
I think what took me by surprise is the abundance of recipes using nutritious ingredients like kale and Brussels sprout, which has been trending over the last few years. Chefs have the pressure of making nutrient-dense food taste good and they rise to the occasion daily. It’s been received very well by the community and I didn’t expect that. It makes me really happy.
RWS: How does your cooking style differ from competing restaurants with similar cuisine as your menu?
KH: I believe that every chef cooks differently, just as we all wear shoes differently. I have a lot of passion and a lot of love and that comes out in my dishes. We also have the unique ability to grow produce to spec. For instance, I don’t have to simply dream of the smallest beets you’ve ever seen; we can grow them. I don’t have to search for a rare type of basil; we can grow it. As far as ingredients go, we only grow it — and I only cook it — during its proper season.
RWS: The very best dining experience that you’ve ever had— where were you and what made it so memorable?
KH: I was at Cyrus in Santa Rosa. The wow factor was there the whole time. I’ve never seen a dining room work in such silence, as far as the servers and their eye on detail. The food, the presentation, the whole thing — it was just phenomenal.
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