Raising the Standard
Celebrity Chef Chris Gentile Cooks Up Italian Perfection
Written By: Nicole Fera
Photographed By: Josie Gonzales
The Expert: Chris Gentile
Credentials: Head Chef and Partner, Double Standard
As I walk down 6th Avenue to meet up with Celebrity Chef Chris Gentile, I can’t help but realize again just how amazing San Diego’s downtown is. It has just enough hustle and bustle to feel like a city with the perfect amount of sunshine and color to make it unique. I arrive at Double Standard, a newer restaurant on the culinary scene and am immediately drawn in. Even if I weren’t set up to go there that day, I would have wanted to stop and check out what it is all about. An outside patio consists of oversized, whimsical chairs, fake grass and chic tables. Inside, the bar is center stage in this open, airy venue. A large bookshelf wall is to my right and catches my eye with all of the colors and textures on, and around it. It’s the perfect blend of modern and comfort, much like what the menu seems to be at first glance. After introducing myself, they let me know that Chris would be right out, and a few minutes later, one of the most passionate people I have ever met emerged from the kitchen. Chris Gentile is a young, energetic, friendly, chaotic character who seems to dive right into what’s in front of him and is truly present in the moment. He was kind enough to sit down and talk to me about this new restaurant, his career and everything in between, and he did it with such enthusiasm it was intoxicating. Not only does he have a clear, unique vision for the food that he puts out, his love for what he does is truly inspiring and has taken him to some pretty amazing places so far. Here’s what I learned.
Q: So first off, are you a rare San Diego local or did you make your way here like most of us living in paradise?
Chris Gentile: I’m actually a Florida native, but I grew up in Asheville, North Carolina.
Q: What brought you out here?
CG: I really just wanted a change of pace, so a little over 4 years ago, I packed up and moved to San Diego to try something new. I love the vibe of this city and the beach community where I live and hang out when I’m not working.
Q: Did you start cooking when you made the move?
CG: I started cooking when I was really young; I always had a passion for it, and I got my first taste when I was working as a busboy. Whenever the restaurant would get slammed, they’d throw me on the fryer to help out, and from there, I started working my way up the line.
Q: That’s a very humble start that I’m sure you learned a lot from as you grew and advanced. Can you tell me a little bit about how you went from dishwashing to becoming what we consider a celebrity chef?
CG: I’ve worked in tons of places, and cooked in different cities all over the country, but there have definitely been a lot of noteworthy restaurants and people along the way. This started back when I was working at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. I worked at the Inn on the property, and that estate is a five-star, five-diamond establishment, so there’s a lot to be said about it, and I learned from the chefs who work there. I went from being a dish washer to a sous chef in only 3 years by just working hard and absorbing everything that I could.
Q: Wow, that’s a pretty amazing start to your resume already. Where did you find yourself after that?
CG: I had actually met a lot of people while I was working at the Biltmore who were from New York City or heading that way to work, so I went up there for a while to work in restaurants in Hyde Park. I would crash with them and just loved to be doing something new, with so much to learn and take in. I also worked in Charleston for a while before that, and I have an uncle who is pretty big in the food scene in Chicago, so I’ve been all over the place. I’m lucky to have had all of my hard work pay off for me along the way because I’ve taken something with me from everywhere that I’ve been. I think that reflects a lot in my food and style of cooking.
Q: Eventually you made the decision to head west, and in 2011, you landed in San Diego. Where did you find yourself cooking?
CG: I’ve actually bounced around from a lot of different places in the area. I worked at Searsucker for a long time under Brian Malarkey, who I know we all know. I also worked at 1540 under Jon Bautista for a while, but when he left, they changed their food style, and it didn’t really work with what I do. I left shortly after that change and went to Nine-Ten in La Jolla. That’s where I worked under Jason Knibb, who is just such an amazing person and chef as well.
Q: It sounds like you’ve gotten to work for some pretty amazing people and huge restaurants in the San Diego food scene, and now you’re the head chef and partner here at Double Standard. What kind of food do you focus on here?
CG: My style of food is fancy, yet approachable. You always eat with your eyes first, so you want the presentation to be the main attraction so that people want to dive in. I use a lot of comforting flavors and elevating classic dishes, and make even the simplest things more high-end. I think my style also goes well with the downtown city vibe of SD, so we’re happy to be down here cranking out some awesome food.
Q: I’ve had some of the food before, and it was honestly amazing. The Uni Spaghetti was so fresh and flavorful, not to mention it really did look beautiful when it came out. Do you make the pasta in-house?
CG: Oh, definitely. We make as much as we can by hand, and we’re all about the pasta. We have seven different dough recipes that we use to make all of the pasta fresh every single day. It really does make a huge difference because if you’re going to make it and then have it for a few days, you might as well just buy it.
Q: What would you say inspires you in the kitchen and as a leader to the other chefs?
CG: I thrive on being able to create new things and constantly teaching my team and myself. I have a pretty laid-back approach when it comes to the kitchen, and I don’t believe that there needs to be screaming and yelling to get things done. I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants where there’s such high pressure, and everyone is just screaming at each other, and that’s not the way I like to do things around here. We have a great staff, and we get things done while enjoying what we do and learning from each other.
Q: What would you say is your favorite thing on the menu?
CG: That’s a tough call, but I think right now I’d have to say my favorite is our N’duja Mussels and Clams dish. It’s the kind of dish that reminds me of just sitting outside in the sun, drinking some beer, and enjoying some fresh seafood. We also use fennel pollen in the dish, and I am just a huge fan of that taste and flavor.
Q: Not only have you had major success with all of your past endeavors and now this new restaurant, but you’ve managed to earn the title of Celebrity Chef as well. How did this happen?
CG: I’ve actually competed and won a few different culinary challenges, but my claim to fame, for now, is when I won “Cutthroat Kitchen” on Food Network. I had actually cooked for Alton Brown, the host of the show, a few times before, so he recognized me when I got there. It was pretty tough, but I ended up being able to hold on to $17, 000, which was one of the highest winnings so far.
Q: What are some things that you had to deal with?
CG: During one of the rounds, I had to work with a potato masher tied to my hands, which was pretty rough. It also earned me the nickname “masher hand” for a while. I had to make gnocchi with potatoes that I had to pick out of clam chowder, which was interesting, and I lost the use of my stove for the final 5 minutes. All of that was difficult, but for me the hardest part about doing any kind of show or challenge like that is that you don’t know where anything is!
Double Standard Kitchenetta and Craft Bar
695 6th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
619.269.9676 | www.doublestandardsd.com