I sat down with Chef Chad White from Zona Blanca to find out what inspires him in the kitchen. What do you want first: The good news or the bad news?
Bad News: Tide & Tonic is no longer happening. If you are confused, then you missed the announcement about the Oyster Bar Chad had plans to open downtown this winter. Unfortunately, he had to pull the plug on this concept due to some conflicting thoughts and business contracts.
Good News: Chad wants to expand his Zona Blanca ceviche concept to the Valley and North Spokane. In addition, Chad just started selling Fish Tacos at Zona Blanca. I got to try his salsa, and let me tell you, you NEED these tacos in your life. He will sell them for around $2 per taco, available every day, while supplies last.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Chad White was born and raised in Spokane. He began his cooking journey after he joined the Navy following the terrorist attack on 9/11 where he was stationed in San Diego. Chad grew up as an artist; painting and drawing. He was so frustrated when he got into the Navy because the food was drab and boring. His mom helped him realize that there is art in food. “The plate is your canvas” she would tell him.
Throughout his young adult life, his mom would send him beautiful books with amazing food photography. This inspired Chad to start experimenting with food and he quickly realized he didn’t like following instructions. He began creating his own recipes and making food that emulated the beauty he saw in his cook books. He started to do really well at this in the Navy and moved up all the way to “Captains Cook”. Art is what bridged the gap and helped Chad realize his passion for creating amazing food. Chad was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2006 and began traveling around Mexico where he would create recipes inspired by locals and unique ingredients.
Soon after, Chad began working at some very reputable restaurants in Southern California such as Hotel Del Coronado, 1500 Ocean (he still uses 60% of what he learned being trained in that kitchen), Per Se (was #1 Restaurant in world), Hilton Hotels, etc. He became an Executive Chef at the young age of 25! White also opened his own catering company and served at prestigious events such as the Sundance Film Festival, Kentucky Derby, LA Fashion Week, Post Grammy Parties, and more. Chad received various awards and accolades including being names the “Sea Food Maverick of San Diego”. Now for his television debut. He was featured on Bizarre Foods, then Brian Malarkey from Top Chef asked him to partner in restaurant called Gabardine. At this time, he sold his restaurant Sea Rock Bistro then opened Craft Pizza Company in La Jolla. Two weeks later, Chad opened up restaurant in Tijuana called La Justina. Seven months later he started Comun Kitchen & Tavern, where they served Baja-inspired, upscale Mexican Street Food. Chad then made his appearance on Top Chef and decided to close his restaurant and move back to Spokane in Dec 2015. Which brings us to June 2016, when Chad opened Zona Blanca.
What is your favorite cooking show?
“Fuck, that’s delicious.” On Viceland featuring Action Bronson.
Is there a chef you admire the most? Why?
Enrique Olvera. He is a Mexican food God. Takes traditional Latin American Food and tries to keep it as close to the culture, and the ground, as possible.
What set of skills or characteristics do you have that you think set you apart?
Tenacity. Creativity. “I perform my best when I’m on a time limit”. They do a lot of pharmaceutical dinners at Zona Blanca where Chad creates 5 course meals. He usually makes the menu the day of the event because he wants to use the best, most fresh ingredients possible. He is always pushing the boundaries with his food and loves pushing flavors to their limit.
He recently donated a dinner to Central Valley High School, his alma mater, for their Boosters Auction dinner and he says it was one of the most memorable dinners he has ever created. He read me a touching message from a former teacher after she helped him serve the dinner at Central Valley. She said, Chad is “proof that kids who can’t sit still in their seats are the ones who change the world”.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cooking at home for friends and family. He can cook whatever he wants and doesn’t have to worry about pleasing people or being critiqued. He also loves snowmobiling, hiking, and traveling.
Where do you like to eat around Spokane?
“Right now, I’m really digging the Radicchio salad at Durkin’s, but when I don’t care about being healthy, I go for the Fried Bologna Sandwich.”
Black vinegar snapper at Gordy’s.
Ruins, exciting because menu is always changing.
Spend a lot of money at Hogwash Whiskey Den. (Bagel & Wings)
If he wants to dress it up, he goes to Fleur De Sel in Post Falls.
Do you have a signature dish?
“The one I haven’t created yet…”
What ingredients do you like to work with?
Chiles, citrus, seafood, insects. Try the guacamole at Zona Blanca to see what he means by insects.
What is your favorite thing on the menu at your restaurant?
What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
“Don’t get me started with Hip Hop or R&B.” Chad says, if a girl shows up playing 90’s Hip Hop or R&B, she’s a winner!
You’re on death row, what would your last meal be?
Zips, double bacon cheeseburger, tub of fries, root beer.
If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?
- A Woman
- A Fishing Pole
What is your favorite cereal?
“As a kid, Honey Bunches of Oats, but I am more of a bacon & eggs guy.”
Thanks for all you do to make Spokane a better place, Chad. We appreciate you!