Last week, Daniel Patterson announced that he would hand over the reins of his flagship restaurant, Coi, to Chicago chef Matt Kirkley (L2O). Given Patterson's laser-like focus on the restaurant and high level of involvement, the move came as a surprise to many. And while many chefs at his level would hire a chef de cuisine to take over daily operations, Patterson made the decision to completely relinquish control to his new executive chef.
Patterson reiterated that though there's "no right or wrong way to do it," he wasn't comfortable being called the chef if he wasn't going to be in the kitchen, despite the deep connection he has with the restaurant. "Even though I feel good about the decision, it doesn't mean I'm not emotional about it. Coi is my baby—I'll always have a place in my heart for Coi," says Patterson. "I put so much into it and sacrificed so much to bring it to where it is now." Luckily, the restaurant will be in good hands, according to Patterson. "Matt is not just a good cook, he's a good person whose values are in line with our values—I think that is just as important as technique."
Kirkley plans to head out to San Francisco this fall, working closely with Patterson for his last few months in the kitchen and getting to know local purveyors and products before starting with a clean slate in January 2016. The months leading up to the takeover will be a warmup— Patterson says that there will likely be some Monday dinners where Kirkley can focus on his own menu development, while building his team and adjusting to the culture at Coi. For Kirkley's part, he's ready to jump right into the San Francisco fine dining scene, which he says is "best in the country bar none." "There's a spectacular level of talent in the Bay Area," says Kirkley. "I've got a lot to learn and it'll be motivating to be around these great chefs. It's very humbling."
Then, on January 16 Patterson will hand over the keys to the kingdom completely. But don't expect this to be his last hurrah in the kitchen.
"Just to be clear, I am not done cooking," said Patterson. "I can't tell you exactly what the future holds yet, but I really, really love to cook."
For now, a lot of that passion for cooking will be focused on Loco'l, the passion project between Patterson and L.A. chef Roy Choi that the duo hopes will revolutionize the way people eat fast food. "I don't think anyone really understands how different it will be from anything thats been done before," says Patterson. "I don't think Roy and I even understood that when we came up with the idea."
Loco'l will offer real, healthy food served in the style and price point of fast food, with options like burgers incorporating tofu and grains, veggie bowls, falafel, rice bowls, and other items in the $2-6 range. The main focus, at least to start, will be on providing options to inner-city food deserts currently lacking in food that is both affordable and healthy. It makes sense that their first efforts will be focused on locations in Oakland, L.A.'s Watts neighborhood and other challenging spots like San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, areas that Patterson says have been "systematically discriminated against and neglected."
"People aren't just there for the food," said Patterson. "They're there for a moment of respite and to be treated with dignity and respect— food fits within that larger, overarching act."
As for Patterson's involvement in the project, he says that while he and Choi will both be in the kitchen training staff and working out how the kitchens should run, they are just "catalysts" for creating the team of people that will ultimately build the restaurant. "Everyone wants to know what the food is going to be," says Patterson. "It's going to be delicious and we're going to work very hard on it, but that's not necessarily the most important part of Loco'l. It's about serving people with the same dignity, respect and love that we would put into a dinner at Coi."
Right now the project is still in the planning phases as they work through construction issues. In the meantime, it looks like the chefs are having fun in the R&D kitchen:
Stay tuned for more information on changes at Coi, and Loco'l developments.