"Fresh. Simple. Unassuming. Sustainable." All are words that Chef Ray Garcia uses to describe the menu at FIG, his seasonal bistro in Santa Monica. Garcia is a strong advocate of locally grown ingredients, combing the Santa Monica Farmers Market twice weekly looking for produce to include in his daily specials, and even growing his own herbs and peppers in the FIG garden.
A Los Angeles native, Chef Ray's adoration for cuisine was cultivated at his grandmother's house where he and his family would gather for Sunday dinners, rehashing the week's events over homemade dishes. He originally planned to pursue a legal career but, as he explains, "Food chose me, I didn't choose it. The tastes, sounds and smells—all kept drawing me back in."
He deferred enrollment to law school and began studying at the California School of Culinary Arts, where he truly began his epicurean journey. Ray has spent years perfecting his craft, learning from a variety of renowned chefs at distinguished Los Angeles institutions before founding FIG.
The menu at FIG highlights ingredient-inspired twists on traditional bistro fare. All dishes are derived from his passion to use fresh, high-quality products with minimal preparation—letting the ingredients speak for themselves—which is the driving force behind FIG's menu. "Traditional bistro fare is comfort food," he says. "I don't want to make it stuffy and uncomfortable. I want the ingredients to stand out on their own, and sometimes you will get the best results by knowing when to leave them alone."
Q: What's your food philosophy?
A: It's all about letting ingredients shine with as minimal manipulation as possible as opposed to a celebration of my culinary technique. The little things are important: knowing your ingredients and your farmer and what time of year to make something. That can turn something that's ordinary on paper into something really exceptional.
Q: What are your techniques for showcasing seasonal ingredients at their best?
A: Taste your ingredient and know when to leave it alone. There are times when just a touch of salt is good enough. Don't be afraid to mess up.
Q: Who inspired you to start cooking?
A: It started with a love of eating. My grandparents were big influences, and a lot of my tastes come from simple recipes for afternoon snacks or Sunday evening dinners. I reflect on those times often in my cooking now.
Q: Describe your ideal summer dinner.
A: Tomatoes. I love them, and I have a newfound respect for growing and harvesting tomatoes after trying to do it on my own. With torn basil, freshly pulled mozzarella, olive oil, salt and crusty bread—that's about all I need.