Dorian Southall is a seasoned chef who started his career at a small hotel restaurant in Southern California, and climb up the ranked throughout various hotels, including the Ivy Hotel, the Godfrey Hotel, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, CA.
Finding the corporate setting restrictive, he launched his business, Scratch Test Kitchen, in Los Angeles, CA back in 2019 and hasn’t looked back.
We got the chance to talk to Chef Dorian Southall about his culinary journey and what it takes to launch a successful private catering business.
Chef’s Roll: Where was your first back-of-house kitchen gig?
Dorian Southall: I don’t know if this place is around anymore, but my first kitchen gig was at a restaurant in a tiny little hotel called the Tickled Trout. I will always remember that experience. I was the line cook there, breakfast cook, everything cook.
I was not there that long. I was there for six months but learned a lot, even if it was chaotic.
CR: You worked at the Ivy Hotel in San Diego and the Godfrey Hotel in Los Angeles. Running a hotel kitchen is a different mind game; what made you go into the hotel route, or has that always been your intended route?
DS: No, it was a bit forced because stand-alone restaurants had no benefits when I came up the ranks. At that time, the only way you could get health benefits was at big hotels.
That’s why I worked my way up the ranks at hotels. But hotels are fun; even today, I would choose a hotel kitchen over a stand-alone restaurant just because there’s so much going on – that’s what I like.
At stand-alone restaurants, you know, everything’s set, especially if it’s just dinner only. You come in, this is your block, you do your block, and then you go home. Meanwhile, a hotel has events, banquets, weddings, and so on.
My first Executive Chef job was at the Four Points by LAX. And let me tell you something: that is a whole different monster! I was there for three years, and that prepared me for a lot. It’s one thing to get busy and another to face a bus full of passengers with delayed/canceled flights. I’m not exaggerating, we’d get about an hour and a half notice about an airdrop of 500 people, and they’re walking in the door pissed off. There’s no recovery, so all you can do is make it not as bad as the day they’re already having.
CR: So, was the Four Points by LAX the hotel where you’ve had your most covers?
DS: The most covers I’ve ever had were at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego – a total hotel monster.
I was there for three years, and the people made that place so different. People from all walks of life work there; I had the pleasure of meeting and working with some really great people.
As a matter of fact, I was there right when they were finishing the second tower. I’m probably telling my age by that statement, but yes, a long time ago.
CR: Now, you own a very successful catering and test kitchen called Scratch Test Kitchen in Los Angeles. What made you go into private dining after many successful years working at hotel kitchens?
DS: That’s a great question. Well, the corporate world has a very creative way of letting you know that it will be this way or no way. I reached a point in my career where I knew, especially with the information and talent I had, that it was time for me to branch out.
I had maxed out being an Executive Chef, even dipping my toes in my stint in assisted living. But I finally thought I’d do it for myself instead. I had made a lot of connections between San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, and I had a built-in clientele when I started my business at the end of 2019.
During the pandemic, I already had a captive audience. It gave me a creative outlet with no constraints.
CR: What would be the number one tip you’d give a chef trying to start their own restaurant or catering business?
DS: Don’t expect everything all at once. Be patient, and it’ll come; it’ll come at the end of the day. We’re all cooks, and we love to cook; the best part of it is making food for people, and I think when that’s your base, everything else falls into place.
CR: Lastly, what has been one of your most off-the-cuff experiences/”Off The Record” memories thus far in your career?
DS: I got many of those, but one sticks out to me because it was just a different environment. It was during my time working as the Executive Chef at an assisted living facility. Let me tell you something: Older people have a particular way of telling you something.
There was this lady, and there’s always one! Let’s name her MP. One of my servers told me one night that MP wanted to talk to me in the dining room. So, I went out in the dining room, and she was pissed because we ran out of ice cream, a specific flavor. She was making me have it and pointing her finger in my face. I was about to get heated, but one of the servers came and got me before anything happened and took me back into the kitchen.
But something was always wrong with that lady, and I soon learned how to handle her or brush her off. But I will always remember my first argument with that lady.
CR: It’s safe to say that MP still haunts you in your nightmares.
DS: Yes, she sure does. I remember her first and last name. I remember exactly the way she looked. Yes, I will never forget her ever.
Image Credits Photos by Lisa Torres, Dorian Southall