Chef Tony Esnault discovered his passion for fresh food as a child during the summers he spent at his grandparents' farm in France. He collected eggs in the morning, picked cherries for jam during the day and ate fresh vegetables for his evening meal.
"I learned all the flavors, all the ingredients, when it's ripe, when it's right to cook, the way to cook, the way to preserve it," Esnault said.
The 38-year-old now applies his focus on freshness in his new position as executive chef at Patina restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
"We change the menu by season and by availability of the product," he said. "I like to use the product when it's at the peak of the season."
Esnault hails from Saumur in France's Loire Valley. He studied cooking at the Francois Rabelais culinary school, and launched his career in Paris, where he was employed at some of the city's most prestigious restaurants. He eventually made his way to Michelin three-star restaurant Auberge de L'Ill in Alsace. (Three stars is Michelin's top rating.)
Esnault described working at the restaurant as a highly professional experience.
"There's more precision and more discipline in the kitchen. There is more cleanliness, more organization and an upscale product," he said.
Before coming out to Los Angeles for the Patina position, Esnault cooked at New York's Adour, which he opened in 2008 with mentor and business partner Alain Ducasse. The restaurant went on to earn two stars from the Michelin Guide, but failed to catch on with customers.
Regardless of which restaurant he worked at, Esnault's dishes have revolved around fresh vegetables. And he is quick to caution against buying veggies out of season just to fit a recipe.
"When I buy a tomato at the market, if it's not nice, if it's hard like a rock and green, it's not good," he said. "Every product needs to be picked at the right time."
He even takes this approach with frog legs, which Patina buys fresh from Florida.
"I don't want to use frozen frog legs, we want to do it different from other restaurants," Esnault said.
Esnault lives in South Pasadena with his wife, Amy, and two preschool-age sons, William and Charles, who share his love for vegetables. In his spare time, he enjoys playing in the park with his boys and going to the ocean.
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