Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Tarryn Mento0
Plancha Baja Med: The Chad White Experience
Pushing the Boundaries
In his chef’s coat and a red knit cap, burly and bearded Chad White ran through his to-do list.
Sous chef Ryan Ellison was to make a guava reduction that would join banana crema over shaved ice.
“So it’s like a snowcone,” said White.
The guava-reduction, banana-crema snowcone was the final act to White’s fourth pop-up, his once-a-month dining experience called Plancha Baja Med, where the venue sometimes changes, the menu’s always different and he can make the food as weird as he wants.
“This is an opportunity for me to really push the boundaries with food and be as creative as I want to be,” he said. “And if people want to come to dinners, they can and if it’s too much for them, then they don’t need to.”
Folks looking for something a little more inside-the-box can check out Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park, where he’s co-owner — or his catering company, EGO Culinary Trends, he said.
“The pop-ups really kind of stem from the idea I wanna be able to cook whatever I want, however I want, wherever I want,” he said.
And if he’s feeling funky, he wants to roll with it.
The Back Story
The Spokane transplant got his culinary start by way of the military. On 9/11, White went to a recruiter’s office to join the Navy. The 19-year-old was assigned to the mess hall, and after boot camp, he attended cooking school in Texas.
White had only been stationed on his first ship in San Diego for about a month when he called his mom back in Washington.
“I had a very emotional conversation with my mother about how much I absolutely hated the Navy, about how the food here is not food,” he said.
His mother, Sonia Dilley, figured he was homesick or just having a bad day, so she suggested something in which he could find comfort: art.
Growing up, White always had his nose in a sketchbook, she said, so when her disheartened son called from the ship that day, she pushed him to tap into that creative side.
“And I said, ‘Well, food can be an art,’” Dilley said.
With that advice, White said he was reborn.
By the time he catered his sister’s wedding four years later, White was whittling radishes into roses and etching the names of his sister and new brother-in-law into a watermelon.
Thanks to the Navy, he had studied at the Hotel del Coronado and worked his way up, eventually moving on to DoubleTree by Hilton Golf Resort San Diego as executive chef. White’s passion for Mexican cuisine surfaced around the same time, when he met his wife who is from Acapulco.
“Her mother and I cooked a lot together and I taught her French, Japanese and Chinese food and she taught me a lot of southern Mexican food, so that’s kind of where the love started to come out,” White said.
Hence, Plancha Baja Med: “plancha” is Spanish for “iron” – the type of griddle used in Mexican cooking — and Baja Med is a culinary movement that fuses Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian flavors.
The “Fish Guy”
By 2009, White was executive chef at Roseville in Point Loma where he said he came to be known as the “fish guy” – a title he owes to the Internet.
White said he watched instructional videos online to learn how to fillet fish and then showed off his skills cutting fresh Halibut in front of the whole restaurant on a busy night.
But Roseville closed its doors in 2010 and the fish guy moved on and started his catering company. He then joined Sea Rocket but left his post as head chef for Brian Malarkey’s Point Loma place Gabardine last January. He was let go after six months, and moved on to Counterpoint in Golden Hill, which he left in November.
White said the short stays were just business.
“Me moving around is me trying to find where my feet actually fit,” he said.
After a few years of trying on restaurants around San Diego, White’s settling in to his latest gig –– trying on restaurants around San Diego. His fifth pop-up is Monday at Farm House Café in University Heights.
A few items on the menu – in true White fashion: Caribbean-spiced strawberries, Italian hog-jowl bacon and French smoked pea juice.