Q – When did you first figure out you liked cooking?
Chef Riley Huddleston: When I was about 13 or 14 I figured out that instead of spending MY hard-earned money for gifts for my Mom on various occasions, I could offer to cook for her and use HER hard-earned money to go grocery shopping. I would cook dinner, convinced I was outsmarting her. But it got to be pretty interesting to me pretty quickly – we would eat dinner out somewhere and I’d go home and replicate it. I loved the challenge.
Q – When did you decide to make a business out of it?
It took awhile. After high school, I thought I’d be a professional beach bum but my Dad wasn’t keen on the idea. He offered to pay for college there, and I did two semesters in oceanography before moving to a smaller island in the Caribbean. At this point, I was much more interested in cooking, so I decided to go to culinary school there at the New England Culinary Institute. I sold it to my Mom first, and then tried it on my Dad – he grudgingly agreed to it, but I was on my own this time on the expense side. He just didn’t see how I could make a decent living out of it.
At 18, I decided to open my first restaurant in Boise – the Boise Fry Company. I grew it to six locations and sold it last year. My Dad was so pleased I had finally found a way to the business side!
Q – Did you move here from Boise?
No, after I got the Fry Company up and running, I began creating concepts everywhere. I ended up in Chicago and worked on concepts at The Godfrey Hotel and London House. I ended up here about three years ago, initially working on the Hive & Honey Rooftop Bar and Heirloom concepts. Then, we started working on the Lido House and I got involved as the Executive Chef Partner.
Q – When did the Lido House actually open?
April 18, 2018. Although we are hopping with tourists in the summer season, this is really a hotel that’s made for locals. We’re a 130-room hotel but our Mayor’s Table alone seats 142, and we’ve got our Top Side bar a well as our Crew Coffee & Creamery … so we’re all about being a local offering to our Newport Beach audience. Our pricing isn’t like typical hotel pricing and the menus are entirely different.
Q – So, give me an idea of what Mayor’s Table has going on.
Well, we primarily focus on seafood and vegetables, but our bar menu has items like lobster rolls and spicy tuna, while our breakfast menu offers items like the Dungeness Crab Benedict that’s piled with fresh crab and served with a lemon beurre blanc sauce.
One of my favorite items on our lunch menu is roasted chicken, but it’s first marinated in fenugreek, citrus and spices. We plate it with a nice, light Thai curry and charred vegetables – sunchokes that we toss with parsnip and Romanesco – and then place the roasted chicken on that. It’s a very warm dish that’s light and clean.
Dinner is more elevated. One of my favorites lately is our Turbot – it’s gently poached and served with beurre blanc with crab, caviar and crispy potatoes piled on top.
Q – Given that you could have ended up just about anywhere, why choose Newport Beach?
I think the O.C. is right on the brink of true food greatness. As a rule, SoCal has never been recognized as a food mecca like Chicago or San Francisco. There are a number of chefs in L.A. that are stepping into that space – for the first time ever, really – and there are a number of great chefs here in the O.C. that are taking it to the next level, too. I like being a part of that movement. I like employing modernist techniques, like shattering berries with nitrogen and smoking salmon tartar tableside. The Orange County audience is ready for that fun and innovation, and this is right where I want to be.
The top chefs in Orange County (along with a few surprise visiting chefs) are getting together again for the renowned OC Chef’s Table at Disneyland® Resort on March 1, 2020 to provide permanent housing and services for homeless adults and children. With OC’s most imaginative chefs creating one-of-a-kind magical menus, it’s no wonder OC Chef’s Table is one of the most coveted gala tickets of the year.
See all 40+ chefs participating and secure your ticket at OCChefsTable.com. And, get to know this year’s phenomenal chefs as Diane Armitage sits down with each, asking 5 questions in just 5 minutes …