It’s refreshing to come across a restaurant that is a true original and a reflection of the owner’s passion and style.
That’s happening right now in Escondido at The Wooden Spoon. Chef and Owner Jesse Paul has honed his craft in some of San Diego’s best kitchens and several industry friends of mine had mentioned this was a natural progression for him. The meal I had there was fabulous and I’ll be driving back out to Escondido soon for more. Here is a conversation I had with Jesse to get to know more about his influences and style.
Where did you grow up and what were some of your early culinary influences?
I was born in Philadelphia and moved to Oceanside when I was 11. My mom and grandmother were caterers, so I was always around food. My father was a foodie and would always take us to China Town or Little Italy to experience the food there. Once we moved to California I was introduced to Mexican cuisine and I haven’t looked back since!
Where did culinary school happen and what was your first gig upon graduating?
I started culinary school in Phoenix at The Art Institute. My girlfriend (now my wife) called me and told me that they opened the same school in Santa Monica so I transferred. My first gig after school was sous chef/pastry chef at Top of the Cove in La Jolla.
You’ve worked at some of San Diego’s finest restaurants. Tell me about those experiences and how they shaped your style.
I feel the most important lesson learned is what not to do . . . I worked at extremely high-end restaurants, because I felt that they would have very talented chefs to learn from. Some did and some didn’t, but ultimately watching how these chefs treated the employees or how the owners treated the chef were the most valuable experiences for me. It made me promise not to treat people the way I was treated.
It really defined my management style and my approach to food and collaboration.
Never take credit for somebody else’s work. Always give credit where credit is due. Never yell, because angry cooks make angry food, and the guest will be able to taste it! Cooking was always the easy part of the job. Dealing with all the dynamic personalities you get in a restaurant, that is the challenge. Leading by passion and motivating through respect, that’s what I extrapolated from my years of servitude.
Speaking of your style, I love what you are doing at The Wooden Spoon. It’s a reflection of you as a chef and it works on so many levels. Tell me about how the restaurant came to be and your vision for it.
When I was in culinary school to graduate we had to give our goals, one year, five year, 10 year and long term. My long-term goal was to own a restaurant before I was 40. Hitting my goals was very important for my career, so I made sure I hit every one.
The long-term goal was getting close so I pulled the trigger and took the leap of faith! My wife Catherine and I spent countless hours discussing the concept and what we really wanted to convey through the business. I knew that I didn’t want to do fine dining anymore. I wanted to use the techniques and respect for food that came with fine dining, but we wanted the room to feel like your grandmother’s house. We wanted it to be a local, casual neighborhood restaurant that we would want to go to multiple times a week.
We knew we wanted to support local farmers and artisans, give credit where credit is due. We wanted to be organic, seasonal and GMO free, because that is how we eat at home. So we began our search for the right location. When we saw the building that we occupy now, it spoke to us. It was dilapidated and had been empty for three years, but its bones were perfect. So we made it happen!
Your menu changes daily but there are some constants on it. What can people expect when they come to The Wooden Spoon?
We do change out menu a lot, but we always have the Spoon burger, the house fries with all the enhancers, (cheese sauce, gravy, poutine, kitchen sink). The Pot du Crème is a signature dessert that never changes. Other than that I will make no promises. I generally don’t repeat dishes, but if we get enough guests asking for a prior creation, I will bring it back.
Four things I will always keep consistent at The Wooden Spoon are you will always receive friendly genuine service, food that was made with love and passion, high-quality seasonal fresh ingredients and good music.
There is also a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass. Tell me about putting that together and how it works with the menu.
I really wanted to keep the menus approachable and food friendly. Most of the wines on the list can be poured by the glass. Our beers are selected to run the gamut of styles and flavor profiles. Of course beer and wine tasting for the menu changes are always fun! It is a nice perk of owning a restaurant.
My dessert was fabulous as well, are you doing those in-house?
We make everything in house from the ketchup to the fermented hot sauce. The soft cheeses to the bacon to the sauerkraut. I do not buy anything premade unless someone else can do it better than we can. So, yes all our desserts are made in house.
The Wooden Spoon is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and Thursday through Saturday for lunch. No reservations. Check them out at woodenspoonsd.com or follow them on Facebook. They are located at 805 E Valley Pkwy.
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during at 4:10 and 7:10 p.m. David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at email@example.com or (858) 395-6905.