Chef at Concept Two Seven Eight has a gritty side

Rachel Snyder may pride herself on preparing refined cuisine as chef de cuisine at Concept Two Seven Eight restaurant in Hillcrest, but she’s got a gritty side.

The 27-year-old Vista native loves riding quad racers in the desert with her boyfriend, enjoys camping in the outback and proudly skates roller derby. Yes, roller derby.

Snyder is a member of Oceanside’s rough-and-tumble Hidden City Derby Girls team. She won’t tell you her skater nickname (it’s unprintable), but she will say that since joining the squad last year as “fresh meat,” she’s escaped all the rink melees so far with little more than bumps and bruises.

Snyder’s hobbies are as unpretentious as her food at Concept Two Seven Eight, which opened Jan. 2. Jessica Fisher, who also grew up in Vista and attended the same high school as Snyder, owns the restaurant. They didn’t really know each other then, but became close friends about five years later when Snyder would stay at Fisher’s Brooklyn apartment whenever she visited New York. Fisher’s Brooklyn apartment unit number was 278, which inspired her restaurant’s unusual name.

Snyder, now an Oceanside resident, said Fisher has given her “total freedom” to develop a menu that reflects both her culinary philosophy and her cultural heritage (she’s part Japanese). It’s down-to-earth New American cuisine that’s fresh, locally sourced and ultra-seasonal with a creative twist.

“I like to stay true to my roots and true to myself,” she says. “I don’t want to become too pretentious with my food and I will always continue to learn from other people.”

Snyder’s mentor growing up was her dad, a retired Oceanside firefighter and the household chef.

“He taught me how to open up my palate and try new things - not just food but everything else in my life,” she says. “It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me ever since.”

After high school, Snyder got a job at the Frazier Farms natural foods market in Vista, where she started at the juice bar in 2009 and worked her way into a kitchen position. Inspired by that experience, she moved to New York’s Hyde Park, where she attended the Culinary Institute of America. On weekends, she’d hop a train to Brooklyn to hang out with Fisher and her friends, who included Billy Potvin, Concept Two Seven Eight’s bar manager.

Eager to put her training to work, Snyder moved home and got a job as a line cook at Cohn Restaurant Group’s 333 Pacific in Oceanside. She also returned to Frazier Farms, where she spent a year as the store’s seafood department manager. Then she transferred to the Oceanside store, where she finished up her eight-year run with the company as kitchen manager.

“Everything was scratch-made there, and it was very high-volume production. I learned a lot there and was able to be creative,” she says.

Late last year, Snyder got a call from Fisher, who was back in town and ready to launch her dream restaurant in the airy space formerly home to The Tractor Room. Now chef de cuisine, Snyder says she’s always experimenting with new ideas at Concept Two Seven Eight.

Among her favorite menu items is a short rib pappardelle with Asian influences. She’s also partial to the simple herb-rubbed roast chicken leg and thigh. And customers can’t get enough of her twice-baked chicken skin appetizer.

One of her favorite ideas is “Fish Fridays,” where she and sous chef Michael Barnett create a new seafood special every weekend that’s available until it sells out. A recent special was scallops with buckwheat soba noodles, ramps and shiitake dashi broth.

Snyder loves her job, but the night hours at the busy restaurant have meant skipping many of the monthly roller derby matches. She misses it. Some skaters use derby as way to get out their aggressions, but Snyder doesn’t need that outlet.

“Chefs have a reputation for being angry and drinkers with a mean attitude, but I’m a very happy person,” she said. “When I come to work, I leave everything at the door, put my head down and work. It’s where I escape. It’s my happy place.”

Concept Two Seven Eight 3687 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest 619.278.0080,