“Who’s in the kitchen?”
That’s one of the first things we ask when dining at a restaurant, particularly one with a reputation like Wildfish Seafood Grille, one of the most popular restaurants in Newport Beach.
We found ourselves at Wildfish last year while seeking out a late-night dining spot. We were wowed by the food and the ambiance – not to mention the service – but wondered about the culinary mind behind the menu, which consists mainly of seafood (no surprise, given the restaurant’s name) and steaks.
We recently decided to return to Wildfish to sample more of the restaurant’s fine cuisine and find out who indeed was in the kitchen.
Turns out the chef is Arturo Briones, who has been with Wildfish since the grand opening in 2005 (he was promoted to executive chef in 2009).
An unsung star of the OC culinary world, Chef Arturo was born in Mexico City and launched his culinary career more than 17 years ago right here in Orange County. He was a line cook, kitchen supervisor and sous chef before assuming the demanding role of executive chef.
Prior to becoming entranced with food, Chef Arturo was cooking up engineering designs. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, in Mexico City. He worked for a private development company designing bridges, freeway systems and housing. Following the region’s economic downturn in 1995, Briones moved to California with his wife and son.
After learning this, Stasha and I were intrigued.
“How do you go from engineering to cooking?” wondered Stasha.
“Well, you went from being a professional chef to being a professional actress. He just did the opposite,” I suggested. “Besides, acting and cooking are both arts. So is architecture.”
Seems like Chef Arturo agrees with that reasoning.
“You can use art in food – the colors, the flavor, the visual, and the taste. It’s the same with architecture. You create from your heart and finish with your hands,” Chef Arturo told us when we sat down with him at Wildfish.
“So how did architecture lead to the culinary arts?” asked Stasha.
“In Mexico I always cooked at home, and people would tell me I had something special,” explained Chef Arturo. “I enjoy food. It is my passion, my soul. So when I came to America, opportunities came to me. I went to school and worked with different chefs with different styles, like French and Italian, and different concepts. Then, I made my own concepts and blended my cultural influences.”
“What are some of your signature dishes at Wildfish?” Stasha wanted to know.
“Well, the Ahi Tuna Tartar appetizer is very popular,” replied Chef Arturo. “It has curry and sesame oils, sliced avocado, mango and citrus. The swordfish steak is very good, too. It’s broiled with Jonah crab, avocado and red chili vinaigrette. But the No. 1 dish we sell here is the Georges Bank Lemon Sole. It’s crusted with parmesan cheese and served with a tomato and herb salad plus lemon garlic butter.”
“Those sound amazing,” I stated, getting hungrier by the minute.
“We’re also famous for our dessert,” added Chef Arturo. “I make a Pineapple Upside-down Cake that is flambéed. It’s warm and creamy in the middle, and I cover it in pineapples with brown sugar butter and a little caramel.
“We had that last time we were here, but not flambéed,” said Stasha.
“Then you must have it,” said Chef Arturo, smiling. “I’m going to make you some of my favorite entrees and side dishes, including roasted baby beets and my sautéed Monterey style sweet corn, and you tell me what you think.”
Two hours later, we had sampled five of Chef’s signature dishes, plus the Pineapple Upside-down Cake, flambéed tableside by Chef Arturo. We then understood why Wildfish is so popular – the food was beautifully executed, and made our taste buds yearn for more.
“People know when you make something with your heart,” Chef Arturo told us. “People come here to dine at Wildfish, and they have something to remember all their lives. They don’t just come for the food. It’s a memorable experience.”
For more information on Wildfish and to view menus, visit http://www.eddiev.com and click on the Wildfish link.