Chef Q&A: Sam Baxter of Connie and Ted’s
Baxter puts a California spin on New England seafood
Michael Cimarusti opened Connie and Ted’s in 2013 to share the dishes from his childhood. He named the seafood restaurant after his grandparents, who shared their passion and knowledge of fishing with him. Cimarusti is a chef and partner in the restaurant, and he brought in Sam Baxter as Connie and Ted’s executive chef. Executive Chef Sam Baxter, a native Angeleno, cooks New England dishes with the freshest seafood and the simplest of preparations to highlight the natural flavors of the sea. He talked to us about his affinity for seafood—and shared a few recommendations for first-time visitors to Connie and Ted’s.
What brought you to West Hollywood?
For me on a personal level, I’ve been somewhat attached to the city for a long time. My dad was a city manager here in West Hollywood. My family has been involved in the city for over 20 years so I have always known about it. I grew up here in Los Angeles as well as in the San Fernando Valley. I frequented the area growing up, going to concerts and stuff. I just love how progressive the City is in general and how open they are to everything. I mean, I still remember my dad working on projects, they were all very green related, whether it was getting electric trucks or using natural fuel. They were always ahead of the curve. They built the big park down the street and that was one of his final projects. It all has to do with sustainability, which is what we also do here at Connie and Ted’s.
What would you say is the importance of food in our culture?
Food kind of defines culture or is a strong defining characteristic of culture. I think in LA, it gets a little lost at times. There are so many distinct neighborhoods around and L.A. is a true melting pot. Here we have everything. It’s all here but maybe kind of spread out. So we’re bringing our own kind of culture. Something that people don’t associate with food and culture is American. There’s nothing really definitive, but what we do here at Connie and Ted’s is the strong cultural background of New England. I associate it as the soul food of New England. You know, it’s food that people grew up with. Fishing with their grandfather or going to down to the sea shore to have fried clam cakes or lobster rolls. All the things that hit the nostalgic soft spot.
What’s your specialty dish?
I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with seafood and I’ve always been attached to the ocean. I used to get lost in Jacques Cousteau books in middle school. I’ve always loved the ocean and so I’ve always had an affinity for seafood. Then coming to work for Michael, it always seems right. I’ve definitely built a passion for it.
There are so many things that are made in-house at Connie and Ted’s. Can you name a few?
The most common thing we say is that we make everything in-house but the ketchup. Everything else we make. All the bread. Even the bread crumbs we use to bread the crab cakes, that’s coming from our in-house bread. The oyster crackers. All the ice cream.
How has being in California shaped your food-sourcing practices?
The initial concept of the whole restaurant is New England clam chowder. One of the biggest surprises I had when we first opened—it was evident within a couple of weeks—is how much grilled fish we were selling. The charcoal wood grill is not very New England. That is the California twist on a lot of the menu, besides the sourcing. Obviously, we want to talk about bringing local products and things that we see here, either from our coastline like Northern Baja, Southern California, or from New England. In the kitchen, what brings all that together, is that grill. That’s just one of the things that we’ve ran with. When we first opened, we had 4 or 5 different types of fish and now it’s upwards of 8 or 9 different varieties. We like to keep it interesting.
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