You might be looking at his picture thinking, "This guy is way too young to be a chef at one of the best restaurants in L.A.," but 26-year-old Sherman Oaks native Adam Horton has already made a name for himself as one of Gayot's Top 5 Rising Chefs, and has revived the fortunes of Malibu's famed Saddle Peak Lodge. We recently talked with this young star about his experiences working in Los Angeles restaurants (and several Michelin-starred ones in Europe) that shaped his cuisine, the challenges of cooking game meats, what he's looking forward to putting on his menus this fall, and what it is he talks about with his "chef buddies."
LA.com: How would you describe the cuisine at Saddle Peak Lodge?
AH: Market-driven, seasonal, French-influenced American. The restaurants I worked in besides Saddle Peak were classical French, though I have a true passion for Asian ingredients and flavors. I try and incorporate global flavors with local ingredients.
LA.com: You've worked in some very famous kitchens, like Taillevent, Restaurant Gordon Ramsey and La Palme d'Or, not to mention Mélisse, right here in Santa Monica. How did working at those different places shape your own taste and philosophy of cuisine?
AH: My on-paper education was from California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, though I feel like the real education comes from the incredible kitchens I had the privilege of working in. I'm extremely fortunate to have had some of the best chefs in the world as teachers, and I give them all the credit.
I worked under Warren Schwartz, who really instilled a different level of thinking about food and cooking in me. When I got to Saddle Peak he told me I'd learn a lot there, and once I felt like my learning curve was waning, it was time to go someplace else. I watched him bring cooks up and help them find jobs as he ushered them into new places to learn new techniques.
Following this period at Saddle Peak I left for Europe where I staged and cooked in some pretty incredible Michelin two- and three-star restaurants. When I returned I worked at Mélisse under Josiah Citrin and Brendan Collins, who showed me what it was like to really strive for perfection. I still believe Mélisse to be the best restaurant in Los Angeles. Following that I returned to Saddle Peak as sous chef. Working with chefs who have such talent and passion gave me an understanding of what it takes to be working in a world class restaurant.
LA.com: Are there any challenges to cooking with game meats like elk, ostrich and buffalo? How do you handle them?
AH: The biggest challenge is probably how lean they are. Cooking lean meats is tricky because your margin for error disappears. They can quickly become dry or tough. Some of the larger wild game meats such as Rocky Mountain elk, and yak, have a very high iron content, which is distinctively noticeable if the flavors are not complemented. I like to balance sweet, sour and salty with these iron components. I like to pair fruit with game meats, and I suggest not cooking them over medium rare. Sous vide cooking is something that has really helped with this as it allows us to keep the meats at a very precise temperature, so you don't get the "bullseye" effect, which is a byproduct of high-heat cooking where the outside of the meat is cooked almost medium and the center rare or medium rare.
LA.com: What are some of your favorite dishes to make at Saddle Peak Lodge, and why? What are your favorite dishes to make in general, and why?
AH: Though Saddle Peak is primarily known for game meat, I really have a passion for cooking fish as well. My current favorite dish on the menu is the halibut which we slow roast, paired with black garlic, English peas and an uni (sea urchin) sauce. In general my favorite dish to cook will be the last one I put on the menu, because it's something new and exciting.
LA.com: Are there any new foods or dishes diners at Saddle Peak should look out for in the coming months?
AH: I will be starting to add some of the fall flavors to the menu over the next few weeks. I like cooking wild boar in the fall. We have a farm in Texas that has some of the best boar I've had. You'll start to see flavors like sage, maple and apples. I love the fall and the rich flavors which come with it. I'm really excited!
LA.com: Where do you like to go when you eat out in Los Angeles?
AH: That's really difficult. I've had some really good meals in some of the fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles which have shaped how I cook as well. Places like Mélisse and Providence are definitely favorites of mine. I had a nice meal at The Bazaar a few weeks ago. But some off-the-map favorites of mine are places like Pho 54 in Rosemead. I love Sanamluang Café, a Thai restaurant with locations in the Valley and Hollywood, and I love Korean BBQ. I have a hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant I go to in the Valley, Sumo Sushi, which is pretty incredible. I always try and get to the newest restaurants which have opened. I want to see what's new and innovative. It also gives me things to talk about with my chef buddies.