Years ago I had a memorable dinner at Juniper & Ivy in San Diego, one of Executive Chef Richard Blais culinary destinations. Known as one of the most beloved television personalities of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars, he also helped open The Crack Shack, featuring elevated chicken and egg dishes in a casual, yet whimsical setting. I met Blais in person at the opening of the Century City and Pasadena locations.
When I learned he is getting ready to open Ember & Rye, a new ‘Modern Steakhouse with a retro vibe’ at the luxury Park Hyatt Aviara, I was eager to talk to this affable chef about life during the pandemic and what’s in store for him in 2021.
This successful restaurateur and cookbook author (‘Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate” earned a James Beard Award Foundation Award nomination) gave me over one hour of his time. Together we sat outdoors on the terrace outside Ember & Rye and here is what I learned:
Chef what have you been doing during the Covid-19 pandemic?
I stopped flying on hundreds of airplanes, and stayed home and have been grilling and cooking for my family. I’ve slowed down and have been spending more time with my wife and two daughters.
What did you think when the Park Hyatt Aviara management team reached out to you about a new restaurant concept at the resort’s golf course?
I received the phone call before March 2020, and felt so honored they wanted me to create a new restaurant. We want to do a lot outside, and will have the wood-fire grill out on the terrace to appeal to guests senses. I’m proud to open a restaurant at this time together with the Park Hyatt Aviara team, because we are moving forward to be part of the community and bring something to the area and to guests of the hotel. We are bringing a dining experience that is a unique and different. This is a massive deal for my career and personal growth. I also like that headquarters is close to home.
Your new restaurant is located near the 1st and 18th hole at the Aviara Golf Club, do you play golf?
I started playing golf before the pandemic and thought about changing golf course dining. There could be a niche in elevating restaurants at golf courses. No chef has done that, and see when I put this idea out to the universe, I received the call.
How did you come up with the name Ember & Rye?
RB: Ember & Rye gets its name from the embers from a wood fired grill, and rye is for the amazing whiskey and bourbon program we will have at the bar. Plus it’s a nod to my daughters Embrey and Riley. I call them Em and Rye.
Will you be at the restaurant often once it opens in March 2021?
You bet! The entrance of the restaurant will have a Chef Station where I can greet guests and offer a drink and snack. There will be a lounge and stools to enjoy a round of drinks before dinner. It’s a Modern Clubhouse meets Retro, not your grandparent’s clubhouse or 19th hole restaurant. I miss spending time in the dining room talking and taking selfies with guests.
Can you give me a sneak peek at your menu?
As a chef, I take care of people. I prepare and cook with my hands that nourish people. It’s an organic process, preparing simple and well prepared food from 90% west coast “Triple F” – Fishermen, Farmers and Foragers. We will feature wood grilled proteins, dry-aged beef and vegetable sides with lot’s of sauces. I love making different sauces! It’s fun and easy food that I like to eat. We are working on some creative sides that are produce driven. Think creamed spinach that may have artichoke puree, corn creme brûlée and onion rings on the menu. My TikTok video making onion rings in my kitchen has over 2 million views. Besides a baked potato, I may have baked celery root or use other root vegetables.
Have you ever baked jicama? That might be interesting. You know how people like potato gratin, what about jicama gratin? That’s different, right?
Where were you yesterday when we were working on R & D? I’m going to buy a jicama and work on that tomorrow.
How about desserts?
I love liquid nitrogen. Wait until you see what Christophe Rull (Executive Pastry Chef at the Park Hyatt Aviara) is creating. He is an amazing pastry chef. The restaurant will have a throwback vibe of old and new, including our vintage-era server uniforms. They are very cool.
Will we see you on television soon?
I just finished filming Season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef in Portland, OR, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Not one person got sick in the production bubble. It was great to see everyone and will be a fun show for fans to watch.
Ember & Rye will hopefully open by the time the state of California and San Diego County lift dining restrictions. Everyone is hopefully with the Covid- 19 vaccines that it should be open March, 2021.