Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Pastry Chef Carlos Enriquez of Patina Restaurant Group

by Antoinette Bruno
May 2014

Antoinette Bruno: Can you give me a general idea of the scope of your operation at Patina Restaurant Group?
Carlos Enriquez: There’s C&M: Coffee and Milk Bar. We have two: one in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and one in Orange County at the building of a software company with about 7,000 employees, it’s a huge cafe. We have nine Market Cafes and within the next 45 days [March 2014] we’ll have two more. And besides the restaurants, we do a lot of catering. We do the Hollywood Bowl.

AB: How do you approach designing pastry programs for the many varied outlets? 
CE: I see the concept first, whether it's Italian or French driven or whatever ethnic style. Second, the style of the chef is very important: classic? Heavy? Light? Third, I look at  Demographics. Fourth, I think about practicality in the kitchen. What are the limitations? Does it have a Pacojet? Fifth, I consider the number of covers or the volume the restaurant goes through.

AB: How varied are the different outlets?
CE: We have super fine-dining like at Patina Restaurant where we do pre-dessert, dessert, mignardise. We don't do the desserts in our commissary, but we have a pastry chef there I work with in collaboration. Also, we have a few steakhouses in the company. With them I try to go very classic Americana: cheese cake, bread pudding, more home-style desserts. We have our Pinot brand: Pinot Provence, Cafe Pinot, Pinot Brasserie, Kendell's, they're all very classic-French driven. We have more modern Mediterranean style restaurants: Catal, Ray's and Stark Bar. Very Italian driven restaurants: Naples, we have two. They’re very traditional Italian and go through something like 1500 pizzas per day. Lastly, we have Tortilla Joe's, our Latin inspired restaurant. In each we do tres leches or chile de arbol-chocolate cake.

AB: What is the total F&B revenue?
CE: Last year we brought in $265 million. On the West Coast alone, $128 million, that includes all catering and Market Cafes. I don't know how much I'm responsible for, but last year we transferred out $1.8 million in labor and food costs.

AB: How many do you manage?
CE: I have a staff of 28, we never stop.

AB: Do you have a pastry chef at each place?
CE: I have a pastry at Patina Restaurant and one other that oversees the three outlets in downtown Disney. Those outlets are money makers, each of those outlets do $18 to $20 million per year.

AB: How do you choose and retain your staff?
CE: It’s been a big challenge. Now my sous chefs and myself, we interview at least 12 people to hire one person. Out of those 12, we choose six to stage. Then, out of those six, we choose three to re-stage, and then we offer an opportunity to one. We started doing this about four months ago now. The biggest challenge here at Patina is, when I started, was we took on the whole company, everything was done on the outside and we brought it in house. We started with five employees and one sous chef. That was in the beginning, when I was hired in August 2012.

We didn't have systems in place, and made some bad hires. Because of those, the good employees left and got frustrated. We stepped back, tremendously, and now we have one unit that's very cohesive, we all push each other. The way we retain now, besides staging, we have a full training program from documented paperwork to one-on-one training on each station before they're left alone—a full four weeks of training. We need to provide our employees with all of the tools they need: the training, the tools, the ingredients, working alongside them. Whether it's myself or the head baker, we're always in the kitchen.

We look out for professionals, which is why we stage so many people just to hire one. Professionals meaning: in the beginning we'd have to say “Put your hair in your hat. Trim your nails.” Now, that's all gone. We want to push the limits, train employees on how to do technical stuff: proper lamination of croissants, proper anglaise, gastriques. And then push those limits after that, infusing the butter before you laminate it. We're at a phase where we have this cohesive team and we really want to start pushing those limits.

AB: Do you see yourself as a leader in the pastry community?
CE: Not yet, but I hope to get to that point.

AB: What are the attributes of a leader?
CE: You have to be a mentor, show your work ethic, and be very disciplined. The mentors that people look up to are like Sherry Yard. She's mentored for many years, but she's still in the kitchen. I want to be like her and when I'm 60 still be in the kitchen. The older we get, there's always drama in the culinary field, but there are always a handful of chefs that no one will say anything bad about: Sherry Yard, Donald Wressel, too, he's a world champion, they started together. And other guys like Michael Laiskonis, true professionals. 

AB: What's your five-year plan?
CE: Me and my fiancé are going to open up our own place, a small chain of this particular product. I can't say what it is yet because we're waiting on the trademark. It will be separate from Patina. I see myself leaving Patina once that takes off. We're going to focus more on locally sourced ingredients. One thing we're really R&D-ing are nut milks and oat milks—oats have a higher protein percentage.