Xavier Salomon, Executive Chef and Maitre Cuisiner de France (French Master Chef) with The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, was recently named Chef of the Year for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company which operates hotels and resorts around the world. Salomon will be honored in Washington, D.C. at the end of the month.
Salomon became associated with the Ritz in 1989, starting in Atlanta, when there were only six hotels, compared to 75 today worldwide. In his time with the company, Salomon has trained nine Ritz-Carlton Executive Chefs, or 15 percent of the company’s top chefs. He has opened 20 hotels for the Ritz, in places like Moscow and Beijing. When he’s not traveling, Chef Salomon can be found at the Half Moon Bay locale, overseeing efforts at the Ritz’s restaurants: , The Conservatory Lounge, ENO, and Ocean Terrace.
Half Moon Bay Patch caught up with busy Chef Salomon, a native of France, to ask how he feels about his Chef of the Year honors, working in Half Moon Bay, and his passions inside and outside the kitchen.
Half Moon Bay Patch: You have earned the title Maitre Cuisiner de France (French Master Chef) in 2005 and now have won Chef of the Year 2010 for the Ritz. What do these awards mean to you personally?
Chef Salomon: First of all, I feel honored by that. It celebrates really what I’ve been doing the past 20 years for the Ritz-Carlton.
Half Moon Bay Patch: You are fourth in your family to win the French Master Chef Award and a fifth generation restaurateur. Can you tell us about your family of chefs?
Chef Salomon: My grandfather, father, and uncle were all chefs and won the French Master award. I brought my dad here to cook with me in 2005, when we had our annual meeting and conference here. Two years ago, again, we had a cooking event for Father’s Day and we cooked a father and son dinner. He’s retired, but he still needs to work a bit, right?
Half Moon Bay Patch: Why did you choose to follow in your family’s footsteps?
Chef Salomon: I was never forced to do it. We lived above the restaurant, and when I was a kid, on our days off, we used to have a chance to work in the kitchen. I could wash and clean the carrots or wash the glasses, this kind of thing. I loved the lifestyle and I loved to cook. My parents would take us to Three Star Michelin restaurants and it kind of got into my mind that I wanted to be a chef and be recognized in that way. I remember when I was 15 and met with someone who was going to help me with college and make a decision about what I was going to do with my life. I sat in front of this guy and he said, “Okay, what’s your first choice?” I said, “I want to be a chef.” So, he writes it down and says, “What is your second choice?” I said, “ I don’t have a second choice.” He says, “Well what if you don’t make it as a chef?” and I said, “I will.”
My dad wanted me to go to hotel school. He shipped me out and made sure I worked in different places. Mostly he wanted me to do the things that he could not do. My grandfather who had a restaurant was very ill, so when he came back from the war he (my father) had to come back and take over the restaurant right away. So he was never really able to work in different restaurants and study and get exposure to different chefs. My training was hotel school, working in my dad’s restaurant, and then I did many great establishments in France, the south of France, I even went to Paris. A friend of my dad’s was a chef in a restaurant in Dallas, Texas and he said, “Hey, why don’t you take my son to cook with you for a few months?” I went for six months and I’m still in the US today.
Half Moon Bay Patch: What’s different about your cuisine? Why is it a new experience for diners? How do you put science and art into your work?
Chef Salomon: What’s different about what we do here is actually that there’s nothing different. We believe in the basics of being a great chef. We use the freshest produce, when available. I always try to tell my sous chefs, let’s use what makes sense. Let’s not see strawberry desserts in November. So, I think the simplicity of the dishes. Obviously, being French, I do the French basics of cooking.
The vision is the same, when you sit down and whether we look at the Navio menu or the banquet menu; you always try to make sure you fit within the vision. I like to give my chefs a lot of freedom to be creative and do their own thing. But if it’s too crazy or too weird, we stop it. True to the product, we want you to come into the restaurant and order something on the menu and get it in front of you as exactly as what it was on the menu.
One of the biggest things that helps me to get up in the morning is to be able to see people that work for me getting promoted and getting an executive chef kind of job. Today there are nine executive chefs from the Ritz-Carlton that came from here [Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay]—seven from here and two from Atlanta-- and now they are everywhere in the world. That is an accomplishment, to be able to say, “Hey, you came from me, we worked together, we created something here and now you’ve gone on your own.”
Check back tomorrow for Part II of our interview with Chef Salomon, where he dishes about which local farms he sources his food from, what he likes to cook at home, his work in the community and upcoming projects around the world.