Josiah Citrin is a culinary expert and veteran of Los Angeles’s gourmet dining scene, with more than 25 years of experience. He was recently in Brighton to launch a coast-to-coast culinary collaboration, representing Santa Monica in a pier city friendship agreement.
He is a two-star Michelin chef and owner of Santa Monica’s highly acclaimed Mélisse, Charcoal Venice, Openaire situated at the LINE LA in Koreatown, and Dave’s Doghouse in the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Scottsdale, Arizona.
We caught up with the chef to hear all about his background, his cooking style and where he eats on his day off.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
I grew up as a surfer boy in California, loving going to restaurants and learning to cook from my grandmother and mother. I went on to work in France for three and a half years, then came back to Los Angeles to work for Wolfgang Puck and Joaquim Bouchain, two of the best chefs in L.A. The first restaurant I opened was JiRaffe in 1996, with my childhood best friend, Raphael Lunetta. On July 14th 1999, I opened my own fine dining restaurant, Mélisse, which has now been open 23 years this month. Over the years, Mélisse has been awarded number one for Top Food in Los Angeles, five stars in the Forbes Travel Guide, and has held two Michelin stars since 2008.
I am here today to bring a taste of Santa Monica to Brighton, in celebration of the Friendship Cities Agreement between the two cities. I have collaborated with Shelter Hall’s executive chef, Mark Rush, to launch a Santa Monica-inspired menu which will be served throughout July and August. I have also created a special tasting menu inspired by Santa Monica tastes and flavours with The Set’s chef Dan Kenny and fellow Californian chef, Govind Armstrong.
What’s your signature dish?
One of my signature dishes would be egg caviar, served as a soft poached egg with cauliflower mousseline and whipped lemon chive crème fraiche, and another is the lobster bolognese, a dish of Maine lobster served with fresh capellini and a brown butter truffle froth. Both are served at Citrin.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
When crafting my menu, the most important consideration is being able to use the freshest of local, seasonal ingredients, to get the best flavour and nutrients from the food. This was also a key focus for myself and chef Dan Kenny when creating the Santa Monica x Brighton fusion menu at The Set.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is rooted in classical French techniques, infused with influences of modern, global flavours and Californian cuisine. Each dish I create is driven by seasonal and fresh market produce, sourced locally.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
We are so lucky in Santa Monica to have great food and great weather all year round. Great farms come to us from all over California with amazing produce. Each time a new season starts, it is my new favourite as each season brings something new.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
I like to stay active and often hang out at the beach, surfing around the Bay St. area, riding my bike along the coastal path or around Santa Monica Pier.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
Doritos nacho cheese flavour!
Where is your favourite place to dine?
My favourite place to dine is anywhere and everywhere in Tokyo! The culinary scene in Japan is amazing because they are the best at perfecting the craft and technique of every dish from sushi to yakitori.
What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?
Produce is one of those things that is at its best when it first comes out of the ground. Over time, it changes shape and flavour and it loses its original sugars and textures. Getting ingredients as close to harvest as possible is crucial for great food.
How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking the ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?
We work as a team in my restaurants and menu planning is really a constant evolution that is always ongoing, there is always room to grow and develop dishes. We test technique, experiment with how to cook an ingredient differently, how to extract the most flavour and how to create a different sauces.
At The Set, Dan and I looked at our menus together, considered each other’s style and availability of dishes and produce during the time of the event, and I shared some ideas of a few of my dishes which could fit in with the menu. We then developed the dishes together for the limited edition menu.
How would you describe what you create at your restaurant in Santa Monica to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?
The food at all of my restaurants are contemporary American with French techniques and influences, and a key focus on local, seasonal Californian produce.
What three restaurants must all tourists visiting Santa Monica try at least once (excluding your own)?
For breakfast, visit Lunetta on Pico Boulevard for delicious brunch classics and neighbourhood diner-style food. Keep it simple for lunch with a trip to Santa Monica’s Farmers Market, where you can buy beautiful fresh produce and cook something at home. In the evening, head to the Michelin-starred Pajoli, for a great interpretation of a French bistro with Californian produce.
Why is food so important in culture and travel?
Food is life and life is food! All of our best experiences happen around the table with family and friends. All celebrations are centred around food. Food creates experiences, nostalgia and loving memories.
With Brighton and Santa Monica pairing as friendship cities, each community has the opportunity to learn from each other, to exchange ideas and develop new ways of thinking and interacting with one another. This kind of relationship is crucial for culinary innovation.