A taste of reality
Chef Adam Pechal grew up in Sacramento and attended The Culinary Institute of America in New York. After working with renowned chefs Mark Miller and Thomas Keller, he returned to his hometown to open the Tuli Restaurant Group, which includes Tuli Bistro, Tuli Catering and Restaurant Thir13en—all of which specialize in farm-to-table cuisine. In September 2012, he participated in ABC’s new reality show, The Taste, featuring chefs Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson as judges. The show premiers on the network on Tuesday, January 22, at 8 p.m. Pechal chatted with SN&R about his experience on the show (at least as much as he’s legally allowed to reveal), as well as Yelp and food vacations.
Was this your first taste of reality television?
Being involved in [it]? Yes, absolutely. I have to admit that I get sucked into [watching] reality TV of many varieties—mostly cooking shows and that sort of thing. [But also, my] girlfriend will get me sucked into some of this reality drama stuff. I’m glad, because going into that sort of experience, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into. I think I was pretty prepared for what TV was.
Do you want to be the next Guy Fieri? Or do you have a different favorite TV food personality?
Bourdain would absolutely be it. Really, as a chef, there’s a lot of ways you can take your career. I really admire where he’s gone, and it’s a road that I would similarly like to follow, as opposed to Guy Fieri. I just [think] Guy Fieri’s road is not mine. I would much sooner see myself follow in Bourdain’s footsteps.
Are you allowed to say anything about what happens on the show?
Not a whole lot. I enjoyed the experience. It was different. It was fun to go down there and be a part of the whole process.
The concept of the show is that each chef makes a dish for judges that can be consumed in one bite—during a blind taste test. What was that like?
That was definitely one of the [challenging] things about that show. That’s the thing that makes the show very interesting, the one-bite concept. The whole blind-tasting thing is a big factor [also], but I think more so the one-bite … [on a] spoon challenge. You’ve got talented chefs all competing and so, of course, you want to get as much as you can onto the spoon. … It was challenging. It was definitely a new way to look at food. It was fun.
I like to check out famous chefs’ restaurants, like Morimoto in Napa, for example. Do you have a place to go to for food vacations to get inspired about food?
It’s hard to just [name] one place, but [yes], that’s all I do. The more the merrier. I don’t go back to places because there’s just so many. I was just in Napa and Yountville not too long ago for a little weekend. And [we] did some amazing wine tasting. We went to Ad Hoc and Redd Wood, two of the [more well-known] places there. … Going back to the very beginning, what I claim has made me good [in] this industry is my love of food and my love to eat. I’m kind of an addict. I love food, and I love eating, and that’s basically what my vacations revolve around. … Food vacations are what I live for.
Do you watch Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and look for places he visits or just plan food vacations with Yelp and word of mouth?
Yeah, I have actually followed him on No Reservations. Better yet, his show [The] Layover is really good at pointing out hot spots. It’s from a different angle. He and I, I think are fairly like-minded as far as our tastes. And so most of the cool, funky places he’s into are right up my alley. He’s definitely the chef’s TV host. … The chefs really follow him. I mean, he’s a “chef’s chef,” if you will.
And, you know, Yelp is one of my favorite things and one of my least favorite things from a restaurant perspective. … A lot of chefs and restaurateurs get pissed off at Yelp and think it’s a bunch of bullshit. … I’ve had to deal with frustrating reviews that are totally inaccurate that take a dig at my business and are totally out of place. At the same time, we’ve had great support, and when you’re good, those things do come through.
For me, personally, when I’m traveling, I’m on Yelp. And I rarely go to anything that’s under four stars. But again, I do my homework, [and] I’m not going to waive off a three-star restaurant or three-and-a-half-star restaurant. I’ll dig in there and read some reviews, and as long as people can use it that way, it can be a great tool. It’s just unfortunate that people take out their aggressions and their bad days on restaurants sometimes.