Q&A with Water Grill Santa Monica's Chef Damon Gordon
A British chef with a background in French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine, Damon Gordon now serves as executive chef at The Water Grill Santa Monica.
At the outset of his career, Gordon honed his culinary skills in some of London’s finest eating establishments. As head chef, he opened Asia de Cuba, Seabar, and STM restaurants at the Saint Martin’s Lane hotel, with the cuisine ranging from Japanese seafood to French brasserie. He was also chef at London’s Quo Vadis and the Waterside Inn in Berkshire, and worked twice with acclaimed-chef Alain Ducasse.
Gordon came to the U.S. in 2000 with his own Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy Hotel in San Diego.The restaurant earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator and several more honors in San Diego magazine’s “Best Restaurants 2008.” He also worked at Ono at the Hotel Gansevoort and at Mix, both in New York, Blue Door in Miami, and the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach. In addition, he served as executive chef at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington D.C., which gained membership into Relais et Chateaux within six months of opening. Gordon worked at the downtown location of the Water Grill before heading up the Santa Monica location’s kitchen when Water Grill Santa Monica opened in July 2013.
Recently, we spoke with him about the changing landscape of food, Water Grill Santa Monica, and some tips on creating successful seafood dishes at home.
The menu at The Water Grill Santa Monica is very diverse, does that reflect the changing landscape in cuisine?
Yes, definitely. It is very hard today to label cuisine because there are so many different influences from all over the world. I was trained in modern French cuisine but I have cooked in kitchens specializing in Italian, Japanese, and Thai dishes, and our menu reflects a lot of different influences. Some we keep very Mediterranean such as our slow cooked octopus that is grilled with tomato, feta, and black olives. We also feature a few dishes that have strong Asian flavors such as our tuna poke appetizer paired with avocado, sweet soy, and sesame toast, and our wild eastern sea scallop crudo with togarashi rub, Japanese mustard aioli, pickled vegetables, and golden raisins. "'The average diner’s knowledge of food is so much greater now than five years ago. '"
The Santa Monica outpost of The Water Grill has a completely different vibe from the downtown location. Can you talk a bit about what makes it unique?
I think because we are located right across from the ocean it naturally provides a more casual vibe than the hustle and bustle of downtown. It’s more free flowing and open with windows that provide lots of light and I think that encourages diners to stay and sample dishes for a longer time. You also have a choice of having a serious dining experience in an intimate booth or sitting at the long bar with a draft beer and choosing from 18 different types of oysters. We also have a huge display area in the back by the open kitchen where you can view all of the fresh fish and the live lobster tanks.
How often do you change the menu?
We do four major menu changes a year following the seasons. We also change up dishes in between our big changes to use local produce like Morel Bay swordfish, sugar snaps, peaches, and other ingredients that have short seasons.
How long does it take you to conceptualize a new dish?
Usually I know in my head what I want to make and it takes about a week of tweaking until I feel I can put it on our menu.
What should people be buying now to make at home?
Soft shell crabs.These are best prepared pan fried with maybe a salad of watermelon and cucumber.
Also wild king salmon. Fish is always better if it prepared simply so you can taste the richness and fattiness of the fish. You really don’t want to mask it with a spicy sauce. Also, you want to serve something complimentary such as heirloom tomatoes or lemongrass to cut the fat so you have some balance.
Scallops are also great to compliment with something earthy or acidic. They are naturally rich so you don’t want to add too much butter or heavy ingredients.
What is exciting to you in today’s food environment?
People’s palates have changed so much. They are welcoming new spices, cooking techniques, and ingredients so for a chef, that is exciting. The average diner’s knowledge of food is so much greater now than five years ago. They are much more adventurous, especially in the seafood area, which is great for myself and my kitchen staff.