Patrick Robertson, the new Chef at , was one of six chefs brought in by the Food Network for the show . Roberston received the call at 8:30 the night before, so he watched three episodes of the show to become familiar with the format.
“When I walked in the door that morning, I expected to get the job,” says Roberston. The candidates competed for the job in 15-minute cook-off for host and celebrity chef . The dish Robertson made with the ingredients provided, was an item on Irvine’s menu. The Branzino, a seared white bass with ragu of artichoke, tomato, lemon and mint, will be served at the .
Robertson was not chosen as chef. He was considered too experienced, but he volunteered to help with the relaunch. There were about 15 cooks in the kitchen for the relaunch. Roberston worked the saute and grill stations. “Robert leaned on me heavily,” he says.
At the end of the night, Irvine suggested that the owners keep Roberston on as a consultant for a few weeks. In time, the chosen chef didn’t work out and Robertson was offered the job. Sous chef Matthew Babauta was also one of the cooks from the makeover.
“Perceptions have always been that crossing the bridge is too far to go for good food,” says Robertson. With twenty years of cooking experience at fine restaurants and a gig working for Julia Child, Robertson wants to change that idea.
The new dinner menu is fresh and contemporary intended to draw new clientelle, and streamlined to maintain a healthy operating costs. A Lamb Burger, Vegetarian Spanakopita and Cioppino are on the dinner menu while breakfast and lunch menus retain old favorites like omelets, burgers and sandwiches.
Other changes include the ingredients. Robertson greatly reduced the amount of canned foods used, replacing them with fresh and seasonal foods.
The biggest challenge for Roberston was getting the restaurant ouf of a "rut". "There are different ways to do it,” said Robertson who has worked as a restaurant consultant for 15 years. “People don’t really want to hear what I have to say. It’s the same thing on the TV show. People get comfortable. My job is to keep them on edge, out of their comfort zone and moving forward.”
Since the menu change, there has been some resistance from regular customers. After a customer survey, old favorites now are being reintroduced as daily specials, like liver and onions, Athenian chicken and Fish and chips on Fridays. “If they sell, they’ll stay as specials,” Robertson says.
Irvine is known for his dramatic and often harsh style of managing a kitchen. “I am used to that,” says Roberston. “They (chefs) are all demanding. There is a level of service and quality that is acceptable and they don’t tolerate less than that. Robert is the same way. If you are doing it the right way, he’ll leave you alone. If you’re not, he’ll call you on it.” Robertson thinks this style is becoming more common in the industry.
“Thanks to the Food Network, the expectations have been elevated. I think that’s a good thing. I consider myself to have high standards and if something is not right here, I’m going to call them out on it, fix it and move on,” explains Robertson. “Bottom line, this is business. Maybe you love running a restaurant, but you can’t do it for long if you don’t think about the business first.”
“Our whole focus over the last few months is to refine the restaurant to make it more Benicia friendly. We still want to be that local place, but when people travel to come here, we want to surprise them with a level of food and quality of service.” Service is a major priority for Robertson.
Pappas currently serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a full bar. A new bartender is joining the crew with hopes of making it a hot spot. Reservations for the Restaurant: Impossible premiere dinner party are sold out.
Watch the premiere of the Pappas episode of Restaurant: Impossible on the Food Network, on May 9th at 10pm.