Merrill Shindler / May 2004
Silver Spoon Food Arts presents the May 2004 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Joachim Splichal, the chef/restauranteur who turned Los Angeles' lifeless downtown into a culinary oasis. If patina, recently moved into the Disney Concert Hall, is the crown jewel of Los Angeles, then Splichal's other restaurants are an unexpected box of royal bonbons.
Splichal's roots may be traced to the small village of Spaichingen, in southwestern Germany, just above the Swiss border. After years of school and training, Splichal fell in with Jacques Maximum, who made him his sous chef at Chantecler in the Hôtel Negresco in Nice. "I had 40 French guys who were 10 years older than me working under me," Splichal says of his tenure there in the late 1970s. "They all thought Germans couldn't cook. It took me a year to win their respect." After four years at Chantecler, Splichal accepted an offer in 1981 to cook high above the landscape of Los Angeles as executive chef at the private membership Regency Club. When Splichal opened his Seventh Street Bistro, a precursor of his current power in the cit's downtown, he was acclaimed as a savior—a chef whose food melded Old World technique with New World audacity. "His cooking has a serene lushness that, whatever it owes to France in technique, is central European at heart," wrote the poetic culinary scholar Patrick Kuh. "His is a refined ease that is always alert to the rustic note."
From Seventh Street, Splichal headed west, into the heart of Beverly Hills, for the short-lived Max au Triangle—a restaurant so on the edge that only a precious few understood what he was trying to do. In 1989, he opened Patina in a rundown building on the wrong end of Melrose Avenue. From day one, it was the culinary destination of choice in Los Angeles, a counterbalance to the glitz and glamour of Spago in West Hollywood. The success of Patina led to his chain of more casual bistros called Pinot and to The Patina Group, a restaurant powerhouse purchased by Restaurant Associates (RA) in 1999 for $40 million. Splichal stayed on as president of The Patina Group. And with the backing of RA, his expansion has been logarithmic.
His empire stretches from Julia's Kitchen and the American Market Cafe at Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in napa, to the Opera House Cafe at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, to cafes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, Pinot Brasserie in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, and Nick & Stef's Steakhouse in New York City. But it's in downtown Los Angeles, where he runs nine dining venues—including three in the Los Angeles Music Center and one in the Museum of Contemporary Art—that verifies his ad running in local magazines that proclaims "Defining Dining in Downtown L.A." And yet, when asked about his finest accomplishment, he says it's his twin sons. Then he adds that he'd like to start a winery as well. A busy and accomplished man he is.