Catching up with Kettner’s Best
Written By: Jackie Bryant Kettner Exchange’s Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski is Serving Up Success
We decided to pay a visit to Brian Redzikowski, Executive Chef at SDCM, the creative team behind San Diego’s acclaimed Kettner Exchange, to get the details on the restaurant group’s new venture, The Grass Skirt. Redzikowski has been all over the country lately—he was invited to cook at the James Beard House earlier this year, just completed a coveted Oustanding in the Field dinner in Temecula and recently held a special dinner with Miguel Angel Guerrero at Kettner Exchange. To understand his success, it helps to know where Redzikowski comes from and where he honed his signature cuisine marked by French technique and Asian flavors.
Redzikowski’s story starts on Long Island, New York, where he and his brothers grew up helping out at a catering business. During high school, his family relocated to upstate New York, where Redzikowski worked on a farm. His brother, who was a sous chef at a local restaurant at the time, invited him to wash dishes one Mother’s Day and, “that’s it—I got sucked into it. It was kitchens from then on. I loved everything about working in the kitchen: the energy, hours, adrenaline, the controlled chaos, ” he said. From there, Redzikowski’s next stop was the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, which is just a couple of hours north of New York City on the Hudson River.
After graduating, a stint at the famed New York restaurant Le Cirque resulted in extended time off visiting his brother in Aspen, trying to figure out his next move. He ended up joining his brother in the kitchen at Nobu Matsuhisa, where, pleading with the kitchen manager he said, “I’m classically French trained; I’ll work a month for free.” He got the job, and eight mere months later, he was running the kitchen, where he stayed for three years. He then received a phone call from Joel Robuchon, in Las Vegas, which as a chef, is a call you don’t really say “no” to. He spent another three years in the renowned restaurant, moving on to Yellowtail at the Bellagio, and finally to The Thompson Hotel in Los Angeles. This final stop before San Diego provided Redzikowski an interesting opportunity to do a different kind of cheffing—the all-encompassing “property chef” that’s responsible for a suite of experiences and needs to be at the ready 24 hours a day.
Though this experience proved invaluable for his current role in San Diego, Redzikowski credits his time at Robuchon for teaching him structure and discipline. He stated, “Times have changed, and fine dining is different. It took me a lot of time to ‘deprogram’ from what I was taught and to learn from mistakes. I also learned a lot, from my time in Vegas and from my brother, about how running a restaurant is a business. You can have the best food in the world, but if nobody comes, that’s that.”
He met Matt Spencer, co-owner of Kettner Exchange, about four or five years ago. “I was going to move to either San Francisco or Chicago—there was a possible project in the works. Matt said he was thinking about building a restaurant completely from scratch in San Diego. I liked that he was open-minded, artistic, and thinking outside the box, so I said you know what? Why not. Our visions came together, and I liked the creative, seasonal cocktail program he was putting together [with Steven Tuttle, Beverage Director of Kettner Exchange], ” he adds.
Redzikowski moved down to San Diego, the restaurant opened and took off, and the rest is history, as far as that’s concerned. He said Tuttle’s signature drinks are Tiki drinks, and when it came time for the restaurant group to dream up a new concept on the heels of Kettner’s success, there was no question what the theme would be. Tuttle’s love for Tiki drinks and Redzikowski’s time spent in Asian kitchens inspired The Grass Skirt, slated to open in late 2016. The concept is street food that blends East Asian, Hawaiian, and Southeast Asian flavors and seems to be a project that speaks to the heart of the restaurant group’s culinary and cocktail hearts.
Redzikowski seems to feel at home in San Diego and in his role as Executive Chef. He has a knack for designing menus appropriate to different venues and likes being in a few places at once, both creatively and physically. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that rigid schedules, narrow worldviews and small windowless kitchens don’t fit with his ethos—if you take one look at his resume, you can tell he prefers to keep the wheels turning in all senses. When he’s cooking at home, though, he says he likes to keep it simple: grilled cheese. To drink, however, he prefers to wind down with wine from France’s Loire Valley, just because he’s off the clock doesn’t mean he has to sacrifice taste, after all.
The Kettner Exchange
2001 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
Jackie is the Lifestyle Editor for JustLuxe.com. Her freelance work has appeared at Afar.com, Harper's Bazaar, The Infatuation, and Locale Magazine. Her favorite vices include peaty alcohol, rich textiles, far-flung hotels, and all food from any part of the world that can be found in a dumpling-like format. She can usually be found hanging out in her current homes of San Diego and Baja California, visiting family in Barcelona, or in her hometown of New York. You can view some of her work here: jackiebryantwriting.com