Guild chef talks about his inspiration for seafood-driven restaurant opening next week

Chef Sterling Ridings went home to find the inspiration for the menu at the seafood-driven Guild. Literally. And figuratively.

After a brief period working out ideas in a temporary kitchen, the head chef and partner at the new restaurant from the Chameleon Group (Swift’s Attic, Wu Chow), retreated to the kitchen at his house, testing out recipes on his family and getting in touch with the cooking that first inspired him.

Credit: Chameleon Companies

Diners will get a chance to see where the exploration led the Parkside and Uchiko veteran chef when Guild opens in the mixed-use building at Lamar Boulevard and 38th Street on March 9.

Ridings worked for Hai Hospitality for more than a half-dozen years, ascending from unpaid stage at Uchi to executive chef at Uchiko. Around the time he decided to leave Tyson Cole’s demi empire and forge a new path, he was introduced to the Chameleon Group partners, who had in mind a restaurant with oyster and raw bar. Ridings had an obviously impressive history working with sushi, but he took the opportunity to consider how he wanted the next iteration of his voice to sound.

The sanctuary of his home kitchen meant less cooking sous vide, and more pan-roasting and oven-roasting. He put aside the modernism that had come to define the most recent years of his career and returned to the roots he planted learning to cook from 2007 to 2009 at Parkside under Shawn Cirkiel.

“We’re able to go back to a lot of more fundamentals of cooking, which I think is extremely important,” Ridings said. “It’s been pretty cool to go back to cooking like I did at Parkside.”

Guild’s menu will be seafood-centric (the sea accounting for about 60 percent of the menu and a raw bar). Ridings wants to use American seafood predominantly, sourcing from all the coasts, including as much Gulf seafood as possible.

Ridings loves fish for the protein’s versatility, but he always has been most interested in cooking with vegetables, utilizing ingredients that once seemed exotic but have become part of the culinary lexicon for chefs of his generation. What once might have carried the label of fusion can now be seen as a chef’s organic perspective.

Ridings has long pulled from the global palette to realize his vision, so diners can expect anything from raw oysters with green Szechuan peppercorn mignonette to hanger steak marinated with ginger, jalapeño, rosemary and dark beer or toasted coriander tofu.

“We are in a space right now where people are willing to go on this trip with us and trust us,” Ridings said.

The lessons Ridings has taken from his mentor Cirkiel and Cole and Paul Qui will guide his philosophy. While he learned the importance of the basics from Cirkiel, from Cole Ridings gleaned the way to develop brightness and balance and to refine presentation.

Ridings hopes to take Cole’s “perfect bite” philosophy, which informs all that Hai does, and apply it to larger dishes. This might translate to diners experiencing a variety of perfect bites that build throughout a dish such as brioche-crusted halibut on a plate with roasted broccoli and deviled trumpet mushrooms.

After constructing his menu and getting back to his roots in his home kitchen, Ridings has no interest in abdicating his role in the kitchen.

“We’re in this really strange space, culturally and culinarily … you spend all this time trying to perfect this craft of cooking and then once you reach a certain space, you stop and expedite food and tell people what they’re doing wrong instead of cooking your food and coaching people in real time during the process,” Ridings said.

He wants to do away with that notion.

“I don’t tell people, ‘I’m a chef.’ I tell them, ‘I’m a cook.’”

(Guild is at 3800 N. Lamar Blvd. #170. The restaurant offers valet parking on 39th Street, as well as self-parking in the garage on Medical Parkway. Guild will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)

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