Having moved his famously meticulous restaurant service outdoors, the Addison chef is reluctant to return inside.
By William Bradley as told to Chris Mohney
Southern California native William Bradley is executive chef at Addison, the Michelin-starred San Diego restaurant he’s helmed since 2006.
We were closed for about four and a half, almost five months. We reopened August 1st.
I have two young children. During that time we were closed, it was kind of nice to be a dad again, to re-immerse myself in fatherhood and do some of the simple things, like teach them both how to ride a bike. I spent a lot of quality time with my family. I did a lot of reading, trying to recenter myself, rebalance myself, and keep motivated and focused, and trying to plan for where we’re at now, and anticipating how this would come out and where we would be. And we’re still in that process.
When it came to reopening, the first thing was to make sure we felt we could open and operate and everyone was going to be safe, especially the staff. That was my main thing—making sure everyone was coming back to an environment where they felt safe and willing to dedicate their time and energy back into making sure our guests are having the Addison experience.
We’re very, very lucky to have a good space outside that’s well covered and heated. It’s a fairly large building, but the space that we have surrounding the restaurant is quite nice. We’re blessed with this really nice weather in Southern California almost year-round. My heart goes out to all the establishments around the country that deal with different elements of weather. That’s going to be such a challenge.
Before, we had a private dining room as a small terrace for receptions and parties. And then right outside of the bar and lounge, there was more of a reception area for people coming in before dinner to have a cocktail on the terrace. We took all that out on both sides of the restaurant and did tables throughout. Our inside capacity is 50 tables. Now outside we’re about 35. So not bad. And that’s taking into consideration that I have some tables that are eight to nine feet apart, because I have to make sure that we all feel comfortable.
When we first started serving outside, we had to knock the rust off. We were really, really rusty. There are 162 different steps of service that we applied at a table inside. There’s just so much that goes into the service here. We were very, very hands-on and spent a lot of time at the table nurturing the experience. Now safety is the number-one thing. We wanted to spend less time at the tables. We have the QR card for the wine list, because that list takes a lot of time for someone to look at. We don’t want anyone handling it. So there is no menu.
In the beginning, we would place the food down, and then place a card description of what the dish was. That was for the first month. As the second month rolled in, we’ve taken away the card, and we’ve gone back to verbal descriptions of the dishes. We just shortened the description. It wasn’t really necessarily taking much more time, and the guests were looking for that. They wanted to feel a sense of normalcy, too. They wanted to feel like they’re in a safe environment and feel normal for their three-hour dining experience, rather than something very rigid and austere compared to what we used to do.
Obviously, there’s no tableside service or trolleys. Little things have changed, but overall I think we’ve struck a great balance where we’re still offering the Addison experience, just under different circumstances, and outside.
I don’t foresee us moving back inside—not until there is a vaccine and we feel safe. We’re putting the health and wellness of our staff and customers first. We’re going to continue to stay outside because it’s been well received, and we have the space.
It’s very important to understand in the world that we live in how to stay relevant, but also have your own voice. That’s very important, especially for me. I am probably midway through my prime. Being 45, I’m getting to the point now where I feel comfortable with my style. I have been here for 14 years, and we’ve really thought about how we can continue to define our style. It keeps coming back to being so influenced by my area. Not just Southern California, but all of California.
My food went more and more away from French over the years. I find myself, in composing the menu for a certain time of year, getting more influences from just being in my surroundings. So now more than ever, we wanted to shift to what we’re calling California gastronomy. It was the right time, because growing up in the area I feel a deep responsibility to represent the region of San Diego. With some of the things that we’ve been really blessed with, some of the great accolades, I think it’s time to represent our region as much as we can and get back to San Diego, which helped and supported me through the years.
I try, at my age, to take really good care of myself and make sure I’m healthy, that I’m eating healthy. California gastronomy is lighter fare, higher acids, more crisp seasonality, and just making sure that someone leaves here feeling nourished and not stuffed. They wake up the next day and are able to recite every dish they had, because they didn’t overconsume. It’s really about balance for me now. That translates, hopefully, into the cuisine that we’re trying to create at the moment.
At the end of the day, I have the deepest amount of respect for the amazing standards of French cuisine, and always will. I’m never going to go away from some of the brilliant techniques that we all use that are French. But it’s time for me to find my cuisine a little bit more and define my style as I move along. I think that we owe that to the restaurant now.
There’s no better time to make an impact on our carbon footprint and to help out a lot of the local purveyors. I don’t need to fly asparagus in from Holland anymore. I can use Delta Green asparagus from up in Northern California. We’re removing so many crutches that we used to have before that we could lean on. It makes you rethink your ability to maximize the depth of flavor and texture in a dish by utilizing things that you’re surrounded by. It’s sparked a very creative side to the kitchen. We are not just myself. We, as the group here, are immersed in evolving right now. This is our chance to really re-evaluate what we do, how we do things, and show that the restaurant is changing.
Everyone says they want to get back to the way it was before the pandemic. I think we need to get back to how it should be. That’s about nurturing one another, taking care of the land where we live, celebrating the harvest, understanding things, and slowing down—really, truly slowing down—and getting back to hospitality and why we do what we do.