Slow Poke

Photos by Eduardo Contreras

When he first set foot in Matsuhisa Aspen at age 22, Brian Redzikowski knew nothing about Japanese cuisine.

"I said, 'Listen, I'll work for a month for free. I don't know what soy sauce is. I don't know what sesame oil is. I don't know anything, but I'm a hard worker. I'll work,' " Redzikowski said.

And work he did.

For the next three years, Redzikowski earned his culinary chops in a Colorado kitchen overseen by world-renowned chef and winner of a prestigious James Beard award, Nobu Matsuhisa, the namesake of a global chain of high-end Japanese restaurants that includes Nobu San Diego, inside downtown's Hard Rock Hotel.

Now 35, Redzikowski is something of a famous chef himself - one who, in February, created a Dinner at the Beard House, held at the celebrated James Beard House in New York City. As executive chef for San Diego Creative Media (SDCM), owners and operators of some of the city's buzziest restaurants and bars, he created the menus for and runs the kitchens of Kettner Exchange in Little Italy and Firehouse American Eatery + Lounge in Pacific Beach .

Redzikowski's Asian-influenced shared plates at Kettner Exchange, including his Big Eye Tuna Pizza, have been the talk of the town. But the chatter of late has surrounded SDCM's next venture, Good Time Poke and The Grass Skirt, slated to open mid-November on the former Grand Avenue site of Good Time Charlie's in Pacific Beach.

By day, Good Time Poke will serve grab-and-go poke bowls made with albacore, ahi tuna and other fresh ingredients served over brown or white rice. In the evenings, the fast-casual eatery goes dark, becoming the no-longer-secret access point to a hidden cave that leads to The Grass Skirt, a tiki-themed restaurant offering Redzikowski's small-plates take on noodles, stir fries and bao buns - all of which the chef has been perfecting in the Kettner Exchange kitchen.

Kettner Exchange beverage director and cocktail connoisseur, Steven Tuttle, will oversee the sure-to-be-a-goldmine's liquid assets - its tiki drinks.

"Every time you drink them, it feels like vacation," Redzikowski said. "It goes really well with Asian food, so (tiki) was a no-brainer for me."

Also a "no-brainer" was selecting Redzikowski to start the "Chain of Gourmand" (see page 45) for this 10th annual Dining Issue of PacificSD.

E 'ai kãkou means "let's eat" in Hawaiian, but the proper phrase here may be wikiwiki, which means "hurry up." For anyone who's tried his food, Redzikowski's next hot spot can't open fast enough.

GOOD TIME POKE, THE GRASS SKIRT: 910 Grand Ave., Pacific Beach, goodtimepoke.com, thegrassskirt.com
KETTNER EXCHANGE: 2001 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, 619.255.2001, kettnerexchange.com
FIREHOUSE AMERICAN EATERY + LOUNGE: 722 Grand Ave., Pacific Beach, 858.274.3100, firehousepb.com

SERVICE WITH A SMILE

Brian Redzikowski's culinary-career timeline

At age 11, Brian Redzikowski moved from Long Island to upstate New York. While his parents ran a catering business, he worked on the family's farms, and his two older brothers began careers as chefs. After graduating high school at 17 to attend the Culinary Institute of America, he spent the ensuing years working at some of the nation's most esteemed restaurants.

2000: Le Cirque, New York City
2002-03: Chefs de France in Walt Disney World's Epcot Center, Orlando, Fla.
2003-06: Matsuhisa Aspen, Aspen, Colo.
2006-08: Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas
2008-09: Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge, Las Vegas
2009-12: Thompson Hotel, Los Angeles
2012-13: Flavor Del Mar , Del Mar
2013-present: Kettner Exchange, Little Italy, San Diego
2015: promoted to corporate executive chef for SDCM

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