Joachim Splichal: Still a Labor of Love

Building an empire is hard work, and it’s not an overnight process. Just ask the Romans. While he may not have prepared food for the gods, Joachim Splichal has orchestrated meals for a number of notable world leaders, a process that can be just as precise and demanding. But more on that later. Born in […]

Joachim Splichal: Still a Labor of Love
January 5, 2016

Building an empire is hard work, and it’s not an overnight process. Just ask the Romans. While he may not have prepared food for the gods, Joachim Splichal has orchestrated meals for a number of notable world leaders, a process that can be just as precise and demanding. But more on that later.

Born in the German town of Spaichingen near the France-Switzerland border, Splichal grew up in hospitality – his mother and father ran the local hotel – affording him the upbringing (and geography) that launched his illustrious culinary pedigree.

Splichal’s official introduction to the kitchen was as a saucier at La Bonne Auberge, a Michelin-starred restaurant in southeastern France. By age 23, Splichal was sous chef to the man who would become his mentor, Jacques Maximin, at Chantecler in the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France. During the four years Splichal served as sous chef, he won several culinary awards, including the “Youngest and Most Creative Chef” title from the Cercle Epicurean Society.

Splichal and his peer, Chef Wolfgang Puck

Splichal and his peer, Chef Wolfgang Puck

In 1981, after a successful run with Maximin, Splichal came to the U.S. to be executive chef of David Murdock’s members-only Regency Club in Westwood. Leveraging his newfound familiarity with the lifestyle, Splichal opened his first restaurant, Patina, in 1989 with his then-wife and a little help from his Regency Club friends, from whom he raised $650,000.

While the restaurant continued to thrive, it is catering that took Patina to the next level. In 1997, while catering an event at the home of CPK co-founder Richard Rosenfeld, Splichal would be introduced to his future business partner. Rosenfeld told Splichal, “Meet Nick Valenti, he’s from New York, he runs Restaurant Associates.” Splichal took it from there, remarking to Valenti that the Patina Group (now two museums and several restaurants deep) had virtually the same operating model as Restaurant Associates.

“The corporate influence has not affected the culinary aspects of the group because I’ve dealt with culinary,” says Splichal. “I’ve come up with the concepts because I know LA in and out – how to expand and where to expand, and I’ve done so with [Valenti’s] blessing.”

In 1998, Splichal brought on Houlihan Lokey to manage Patina’s “roadshow” as they presented to companies, including Restaurant Associates. At the time of the Patina Group-Restaurant Associates merger, the Patina Group was a $40M business, absorbing RA’s $10M business at the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles and the War Memorial in San Francisco. Immediately following the merger, expansion continued into Anaheim via a partnership with The Walt Disney Co. and the Hollywood Bowl.

Ultimately, the merger and rapid expansion would result in a sale when The Compass Group purchased Patina Group for $40M in 2000, at the time operating six restaurants, four museum cafes, and a catering company.

The merger and sale, like any work of art (the most fitting way to describe Splichal’s craft) had minute imperfections. While acknowledging he comes from the culinary world, Splichal regards his business acumen with confidence, adding that the partnership is “like a marriage—there are good times and there are major hurdles, but you work it out.

“The corporate influence has not affected the culinary aspects of the group because I’ve dealt with culinary,” says Splichal. “I’ve come up with the concepts because I know LA in and out – how to expand and where to expand, and I’ve done so with [Valenti’s] blessing.”

Splichal and business partner Nick Valenti have grown the Patina Group brand to prominence

Splichal and business partner Nick Valenti have grown the Patina Group brand to prominence

In 2006, Splichal and Valenti repurchased Patina Group, now operating 34 stand-alone restaurants and cafes as well as foodservice and catering at 13 venues, from Compass for $90M. Over the past decade, its reach has expanded across the nation. Today, the Patina Group owns and operates more than 60 restaurants, employing more than 5,500 people.

The greatest culinary minds – from Boulud to Chang and Bourdain to Andres – draw inspiration from what is right in front of them, and all around them. Splichal is no exception, fondly remembering his time in Nice, where every product he cooked with originated within the city. It is those memories that led to his fondest Los Angeles food experiences, those which occur at Grand Central Market, where he eats and drinks regularly.

Splichal’s secret—one he observes at GCM that has not wavered even as his restaurants climb to triple digits—is that which he learned growing up in Europe: “It has to be super fresh…the technique doesn’t need to be complicated…always use the best products.”

Now in his 27th year leading Patina, Splichal has stayed true to his original kitchen tenets: Cook with care and value the freshest ingredients.

Cooking for the wealthiest Angelenos, a room of 4,000 in partnership with the Emmys for the past 20+ years, or for a string of world leaders (Presidents Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes, prime ministers, kings, and Princess Kate and Prince William) is all part of the job for Splichal.

In addition to the Hollywood elite, Splichal has orchestrated dinners for a plethora of world leaders, including President Bill Clinton

In addition to the Hollywood elite, Splichal has orchestrated dinners for a plethora of world leaders, including President Bill Clinton

What’s the hardest part of cooking for a President? The timing. “When you cook for a President, you get an agenda – ‘He speaks here, he walks here, he talks here’ – and they push back 5 minutes, and then 10 minutes, not realizing the duck in the oven is now overcooked.”

Splichal’s newest venture is in grapes: He recently purchased 500 acres of land in France, 60 acres of which are vineyards. The first rosé from his label will be available in 2017. He has enlisted the help of the top red wine consultant in Bordeaux to assist in the process.

As he perfects the aging process professionally and with new ventures, Splichal has clear perspective in terms of what’s truly important in life. He refers to his twin sons, Nick and Stef, as his proudest accomplishment.

The interview with Splichal took place just after Thanksgiving, a holiday known for long-standing traditions. How does he handle the menu for a large group, when dinner guests can comprise a milieu of cultures, including China, Mexico, France, Lebanon, and Turkey (no pun intended)? Simple. “They eat what you cook and if they don’t like it they can go.” That’s a mantra he has likely lived by since his days as a saucier, and it has served him as well as he has served all of us. <

The Patina Group

The Patina Group

Founded
1989

# of Restaurants
64

Employees
 > 5,500

Notable Partnerships
LACMA, The Music Center, MOCA, The Emmy Awards, The GRAMMYS, Segerstrom Performing Arts Center, Disney

Upcoming Openings
Chef Street at Macy’s Herald Square; Rowland’s Bar & Grill inside the iconic Macy’s flagship store, named after Rowland Hussey Macy (the department store’s founder)

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