By Frank Sabatini Jr.
He worked in numerous local kitchens, co-owned three restaurants, learned a little Spanish along the way, and recently gained national exposure for his “borderless” approach to cooking.
Now at the top of his game, Chad White has bid a fond adieu to the city that ignited his career over the past 10 years.
Fans of White were shocked when news broke last month that he had suddenly closed Comun Kitchen & Tavern, a sleek East Village haunt that rode the trend of elevated Mexican food since opening in mid-2014.
It was White’s third independent venture after launching Craft Pizza Company in Westfield UTC, and the La Justina gastro bar in Tijuana. He’ll remain a minor partner to both.
Comun’s closing, however, coincided with White revealing he competed against 16 other West Coast chefs in season 13 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” television series, which began airing Dec. 2 after filming in undisclosed cities.
At the same time, he started packing for a move to his native hometown of Spokane, Washington, where he is resettling with plans to open a restaurant there.
San Diego Downtown News caught up with the 33-year-old chef shortly before his well-attended send-off party at Carnitas Snack Shack in North Park.
He shared with us his career motivations, fondest San Diego memories, and how he ended up on one of America’s most popular cooking shows.
San Diego Downtown News (SDDN): What prompted you to leave San Diego?
Chad White (CW): I’ve spent just about 15 years here and I’m now at the point in my career where I’m comfortable going back to my roots and helping the culinary scene grow in Spokane. I’m not leaving out of frustration, but it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone and try a new market.
SDDN: Why did you close Comun?
CW: Comun was a risk because of the hype of the East Village, which isn’t quite there yet. There are still a lot of condos that haven’t been leased or purchased, and we just watched two restaurants close around us (Table No. 10 and Toast Enoteca). Comun’s failure wasn’t because of a lack of effort by any means.
SDDN: How did you land the gig on “Top Chef”?
CW: They found me. It was out of the blue. My name was supposedly brought up a couple of times and somebody within their organization contacted me.
SDDN: Did you immediately agree to participate in the show?
CW: I had to think about it for a little while because I thought “do I really need ‘Top Chef’ to help my career after already making one for myself?”
SDDN: Since you obviously can’t tell us who won, what other details can you share about the experience?
CW: None right now, except that there were only a few competitors in this season under 30 years old. The show used to have mostly younger, amateur contestants. Now you’re looking at more accomplished chefs competing.
SDDN: What are some of your favorite memories of living and working in San Diego?
CW: It’s been about all the relationships I’ve built with other chefs and people in the local food community. Some of them have really taken me under their wings. I’ve also enjoyed splitting my time between San Diego and Tijuana while living here, and I plan to still keep my apartment in TJ since I’ll be coming back down here making quarterly checks on La Justina.
SDDN: Where do you see the San Diego dining scene headed?
CW: It’s getting better and better each year, and it’s important that it continues to grow. You have chefs here who are really excited to do unique things. For me, having friends in Mexico helped changed my style of cooking. I became fearless, just like other chefs are doing.