2017 Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Tristan Aitchison of Providence

2017 Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Tristan Aitchison of Providence
April 2017

SoCal native Tristan Aitchison got an early, lucky start in the culinary industry. His godfather worked as a server at Water Grill and suggested Aitchison work a day in the kitchen. After just a few hours, he was hooked. Impressed by his dedication, Chef Michael Cimarusti encouraged him to stage on the weekends and offered Aitchison (who was still in high school) training in one of the most lauded kitchens in the country.

After graduation, Aitchison joined the team at Water Grill full time, sharpening his skills and mastering intricate plating techniques before eventually heading the garde manager station. In 2015, when Cimarusti left to open Providence, Aitchison followed his mentor—but not before taking time to stage at The French Laundry in Napa and The Fat Duck in Bray, England.

Aitchison has been at Providence since day one. He was a member of the USA Bocuse d’Or team in 2012 and named one of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” in 2014. Today, as Providence’s chef de cuisine, Aitchison leads the kitchen and conceives the restaurant’s tasting menu with reverence for sustainable seafood, pristine local ingredients, and simplicity. 

Interview with L.A. Rising Star Chef Tristan Aitchison of Providence

Caroline Hatchett: How long have you been in your current position?
Tristan Aitchison:
I’ve been chef de cuisine of Providence for five years, since we opened. This is my baby. I worked at Water Grill with Michael [Cimarusti] when he was there in 2003, when I was still in high school. I’m from California. I lived over by the Santa Rita Hills, and was going to go to culinary school. But I thought I should do a little R&D before [enrolling]. My godfather was a server at the Water Grill, and I asked him if I could just come in, and he asked Michael. The overall consensus was: save your money and come and work for us.

CH: Have you had a mentor in your career?
: There are many people, but I would say Michael has obviously been a mentor to me for the longest. Also, his last protégé, Paul Shoemaker, was the chef de cuisine at Water Grill before me. He was a huge influence, and a man named Yu Min Lin. He was a pretty big influence, too. He came to the U.S. when I started working at Water Grill, and had worked all over Japan and Taiwan. Between the three of [those mentors], everyone had their own style.  

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
We’re definitely in close contact with fishermen and farmers, as far as sustainability, and even at the farmers market there are certain farmers that aren’t certified organic, so we have a woman that helps us with the famers since we’ve been open. She’s the one who guides us to the organic produce. 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Obviously the busier we are, the more hands touch the food. As you can see, there are like 20 people in [the kitchen], and consistency is the biggest challenge—maintaining a consistent product. You can have very cooperative team members, but still, some say I’m a good teacher, some would disagree. A lot of times it’s hard to have different artistic visions. Some people get it right away, some people don’t, and need to be shown over and over. 

CH: What's your five year plan?
I’ve kind of been here since Michael has opened the other two restaurants. I can see how much work goes into it. It’s pretty scary, no doubt about that. I don’t know… That’s definitely a question that’s on my mind. Michael pretty much gives me carte blanche here. He trusts me to run this restaurant. But we do bounce ideas off each other. There’s really nothing that he limits me to, creatively. So that’s a reason to stay. But yea, I guess in the future, my own restaurant would be a potential. Most of my experience is with fine dining, so once you kind of make that choice to start cooking more casually, I feel like it’s hard to go back the other way.