paolo buffa

Chef Paolo Buffa of the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach. (Photo: Melissa Valladares)

Chefs You Should Know

Innovative Chef’s Cut Dinners Exercise All of Chef Paolo Buffa’s Culinary Skills in California

Multi-course tasting menus and chef’s table dinners are truly a craving with Marriott Bonvoy members, who are using the phrases “blind taste” and “chef’s choice,” and hashtagging #tastingmenu, 67, 33, and 48 percent more, respectively. Paolo Buffa, Executive Chef of the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach, offers guests an extra personalized and spontaneous take on the trend, which keeps him and his kitchen staff on their toes.

Chef Paolo Buffa got his first taste of customized Chef’s Cut dinners when Marriott rolled out a Chef’s Cut program at six properties around the world, including the Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen at the Marriott Hotel Irvine Spectrum where Chef Buffa was Executive Chef. The experience takes guests on a flavor-filled adventure, during which they place their trust and their taste buds in the hands of the chef.

The Milan-born chef loved the concept so much that he brought a Chef’s Cut program with him when he moved to the Torrance Marriott Redondo Beach. Today, his Chef’s Cut dinners start at Southern California’s bountiful markets where Chef Buffa selects the best ingredients he can get his hands on.

paolo buffa
(Photo: Melissa Valladares)

There is no menu. Instead, Chef Buffa calls on skills earned during his nearly 30-year career, including cooking with his grandmother in Italy, studying at the Culinary Arts Institute in Milan, and holding many kitchen positions within the Marriott network, to turn those market ingredients into dishes prepared exclusively for Chef’s Cut diners in the hotel’s Asian-inspired 21 Square Bar + Kitchen.

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler recently talked to Chef Buffa about why he loves Chef’s Cut dinners as much as his guests do.

How is a Chef’s Cut meal different from a tasting menu or a chef’s table experience?

During a chef’s table dinner you sit down and there is a menu with dishes the chef wants to make that night. During a tasting menu meal everyone gets the same dishes. For a Chef’s Cut meal we go to the local market and create dishes specifically for each diner. Chef’s Cut is also served family style at long wood tables so that people get to know the dishes and each other.

All ingredients are from California so everything is fresh, sustainable and seasonal. And everything is served by Chef Buffa or one of his head chefs who can tell the story of each dish and explain why the ingredients were used. There is a lot of interaction between the chef and the guests.

paolo buffa
(Photos: Melissa Valladares)

What is the key to a successful Chef’s Cut experience?

Trust. The first thing I say to diners is ‘Do you trust the chef?’ Then I ask about allergies. Then I tell them to sit down, buckle up and get ready to take pictures for Instagram.

What elements of Chef’s Cut make you nervous?

You’re always nervous because you don’t know how people are going to react. Do they really trust the chef? Do they really mean it?

How do guests respond to your Chef’s Cut dinners?

They are blown away because they don’t expect to find a meal like this in a hotel. This belongs in a fancy restaurant. But I put everything I have into those dinners. Chef’s Cut dinners are very exciting for me. They give me and my staff the opportunity to cook for fun. Cooking is a job for us, but it’s also our passion. To get something at the market and transform it into something unique is very rewarding.

paolo buffa
(Photo: Melissa Valladares)

What is the most powerful part of the Chef’s Cut experience?

Every single dish has a story. If I put a carpaccio on the table, I want to be sure that dish tells a story about my heritage. In order to create a memory, you have to engage all the senses.

How does a Chef’s Cut event keep your kitchen lively and creative?

In my kitchen I have people from Mexico, India, Australia—all over the world. They can use those influences, and I rely on that. I say, ‘Guys give it your best shot. Do it!’ And then we create. It starts with an idea, then the market, then the kitchen, then we start the show. Chef’s Cut is when I go crazy and do whatever I want. I’m off the menu. You have a sense of your guests and you can make changes based on that. We can switch at the last minute if we see they are not meat lovers, for example.

What are the biggest rewards about Chef’s Cut for you and for your team?

When you get a round of applause from the table. I always bring my team out with me. The dishwasher comes out too! That’s when all the other people in the dining room realize that Chef’s Cut is something special.