I caught up with the Award Winning Chef David Slay at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA. I had the honor of sitting down with him for a riveting and revealing interview, about his life and owning his two outstanding restaurants Park Ave and il garage. He opens up about the natural food industry, his love of cooking as a young boy and his future in the restaurant business. These breathtaking restaurants are sitting on five acres of farmland, in the city of Stanton, CA. Located in Orange County, less than 30 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles, off the 5 Freeway.
Chef David Slay believes in the freshest foods and ingredients possible for his fine dining restaurants. His vegetables and herbs are grown and raised naturally on the five acres of farmland in Stanton, CA. Chef David Slay is one of the pioneers in farm to table food service. You must experience Chef David's restaurants as he expresses his love for natural foods through his restaurants.
Q: How did you begin? Did your mother have a part in getting you into the food business, I know your father and grandfather owned restaurants?
Chef David Slay: My mother was a great cook. With seven kids in our house, she was cooking non-stop. She was like a short order cook, by the time she would cook for some of us, then the others would wake up she’d cook breakfast for them too. So she was instrumental a lot, especially for the type of food that I cook today.
Q: Were your mother and father both good cooks in the kitchen? Did your father cook in the home?
Chef David Slay: Yeah, but no my father didn’t cook at home. He was running two restaurants at the time. There were two restaurants in St. Louis, MO. They owned two restaurants. He would leave early in the morning, and was gone til later in the evening. SO he wasn’t in the kitchen at home.
Q: Let me just go a little bit further back what is your background? Where are you from, where are your ancestors from? Do you think that had anything to do with you cooking?
Chef David Slay: Third generation chef, my grandparents on my father’s side were from Lebanon. My grandmother cooked at the restaurant, when they started earlier on.
Q: So we are here at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, how did you get involved in the food business, Im aware that you worked with a farmer? Can you tell me about who he is and how that came about? And how you came about doing more natural foods?
Chef David Slay: Yeah it’s funny, going back when I was cooking early on, I met a farmer by the name of Bill Rauch in St. Louis, he introduced me and I introduced him into specialty vegetables that I asked him to grow for us. He was a natural, not organic but a natural Farmer who grew naturally. When I asked him to grow the zucchini’s a little smaller or the tomatoes a little different, he was kinda caught off guard with that. I asked him for the squash which he feed to the goats. This is going back thirty years ago, at this time in my career to meet someone who would teach me about growing, farming natural foods, it was something I took from there and it’s been the way I’ve cooked my whole career.
Q: Going back thirty years, you were young when you had this passion, based on your age of seventeen, did you just bypass the college thing, because you already knew what you wanted to do? And at twenty you had your own restaurant.
Chef David Slay: Yeah I bypassed the college thing and by passed the last part of High School thing. I don’t recommend that route but I did not enjoy school I enjoyed working. I decided not to finish school, I was working as a cook and I had a passion and a desire for cooking in my teens, so it was something I wanted to do and the directions I wanted to go.
Q: You mentioned that you had many brothers and sisters. How many of them went into the food service industry?
Chef David Slay: Family of seven, right now my youngest sister in St. Louis, most of them ran from that career….luckily, and they saw my dad living that life, going from morning to night it’s not an easy career, and it’s not any easier now. Our restaurant Park Ave open ten years and the person walking in the door today for the first time, deserves what the person got when we opened our door ten years ago. So it’s an evolving business always and the customers are treated like a guest in your home ten years later.
Q: You have received many awards and accolades for your customer service and the quality of food over the years, How did you go about continuing to do that type service so many years down the road?
Chef David Slay: Yeah you know it’s funny, I was driving home last night from work, a long drive, just in the last week we probably had over two thousand people through our door. For example this week, with this natural food expo, we’ve had so many people that we’ve built a relationship up over the last seven, eight, nine years that have been coming in. Its dedication, it takes one hundred percent dedication, it’s nothing less than one hundred percent, if you’re going less than one hundred percent you’re not going to succeed.
Q: Ok your latest restaurant that you opened il garage, can you tell me about the cuisine and how you came about picking the menu?
Chef David Slay: il garage is in an old garage, on a dairy farm which is on the property on Park Ave. It overlooks our garden which is farmed organics, it’s not certified but we practice organic farming. We grow probably one hundred and ten different types of tomatoes, squash peppers, lettuces, herbs and the restaurant itself looks into the garden which is just magical to sit there and have dinner with the aromas, you have forteen raised beds, and in another spot there’s in ground beds. So when you’re dinning there, you can look into the garden you can see where your tomatoes came from, and your lettuce, Italian broccoli from bed seven that’s in your pasta. It’s an Italian inspired menu that changes daily with what we harvest from the garden.
Q: I know in Los Angeles restaurants open and close so quickly, how are you able to keep your first restaurant open which is Park Ave.?
Chef David Slay: Through what I mention earlier, with good relationships, we’ve built our customer base, our email database is approaching sixteen thousand people, that’s people that have been through the restaurant. We market to them through email blast, newsletters, promotion we are doing, farm to table dinners, things that keep the interest in the restaurant.
Q: You speak about farm to table, do you think the farm-to-table industry is a growing industry in America?
Chef David Slay: My take on that is, a growing industry but I think it’s an industry that’s kinda saturated with the word. Not long ago I was at a Farmers Market in California, you’re seeing a farmers market that there opening up a box of produce that their giving at the produce companies, and putting it on the tables and saying it’s from the farm, of course it’s from the farm. There’s pesticides, the GMO’s that have gotten in to it and there’s just bringing out tomatoes when they shouldn’t. How real is that? So there are a lot of things that have kinda been bastardized in the farmers to table as well as the farmers market.
Q: You're from the Midwest, you’ve been out here in LA for twenty five years, why didn’t you go to New York?
Chef David Slay: When I decided to leave St. Louis which is an interesting story here, twenty years ago New Years Eve. We had about three hundred and fifty reservations we had all the hoopla, the band, the valet parking all of the décor and we had one of the worst snowstorms you could imagine. We ended up doing about forty people and after that I said California it is!
Q: I know earlier on in your career you went to Europe to study under some amazing Chefs, how do you continue to find new things to do?
Chef David Slay: That’s probably one of the most challenging and interesting things in our business, is that to stay motivated to keep things fresh, One thing I’m pretty good at is that for my age, I know it’s a young person business but I’m able to stay motivated and enthused about new trends, products about cooking techniques. I have friends that have not changed with the times and I see their restaurants and it shows in there restaurants. I think that one of the keys to success in business is adapting to the changes, and there’s been a lot over 35 years, especially in California northern and southern. It just keeps me motivated!
Q: I’ve always wanted to know this about Chefs, Do chefs have friendships with other chefs?
Chef David Slay: It’s funny the older you get the time you have with yourself is more important than it used to be, going to have a late dinner with Wolfgang or Chef Pierre so now not as much as I use to. I have kids I go home and have dinner with my wife at eleven o’clock at night, not as much as I used to!
Q: Do you want to add anything about your restaurants? Park Ave.?
Chef David Slay: One thing I want to add about Park Ave, we are strictly a destination restaurant. To have two thousand people a week or three hundred people last night come here, it’s pretty special because you’re not walking around Anaheim where you have your choice of five different chains, or mom and pops that are here and there. With Park Ave, you’re going there to have dinner or your going there to have lunch it’s isolated on a stretch of Beach Boulevard. To where you’re not walking up and down the street, you’re not driving around going to a movie theater. The thing about Park Ave. it’s really unique, there are five acres an old dairy farm has a lot of character to it, its meticulous, we have 3 gardeners, 2 groundskeepers , about sixty employees and it has the same polish today that it has 10 years ago and we are really proud of that! So Park Ave is a hidden gem that has been discovered by a lot of people that make a trip there, daily and it’s not a place you’re just driving around looking to go into!
Q: What is the future for Chef David Slay?
Chef David Slay: We have a five acre property, we are looking at developing another building on the property my partner and I into a market place and a compound of three different small restaurants. It will open up to the garden, were their fast casual near the barn, possibly with a burning pizza oven concept, you order inside the market area, grab a glass of wine and go sit outside in the garden.
Q: I really appreciate your time, it’s been a pleasure meeting you. Thank you Chef David Slay.
Chef David Slay: You’re Welcome. Thank You.
Photos Courtesy of Jeannine Jacobi from Fresh.net PR & Property of Chef David Slay
Visit Chef David Slay’s Website (for reservations, menus, private dining and catering needs)
Both Restaurants are located on the same property.
11200 Beach Blvd, Stanton, CA 90680
Phone number: 714.901.4400
Days & Hours of Operation:
Open Tuesday thru Friday 11:00 am, Saturday & Sunday 4:00 pm, Closed Monday