By February 3, 2011 Read More →

12 Questions with Executive Chef John Surla

Executive Chef John Surla

Executive Chef John Surla

What factors make up a great dining experience? For most, it’s quality food at a reasonable price backed by a knowledgeable and efficient wait staff. You get all of this and more at Surla’s. Executive Chef and owner John Surla opened Surla’s in 2009 and has assembled an all-star team to compliment his culinary expertise. Whether it’s Paco or Miguel in the kitchen, Matt or Sonya behind the bar, or Jerry, Gar, or Rick in the dining room, Surla’s customers know they can count on getting one of the best dining experiences in town.

Chef John received his formal training at Diablo Valley College and the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena in arts, baking and pastry, and Restaurant Management. Before opening Surla’s Chef John worked at numerous restaurants throughout California. He has over 17 years of experience and include stints at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, Blackhawk Grill in Danville, Lucasfim, the Golden Vine Winery (Robert Mondavi) at Disneyland’s California Adventure, and a 7 year stay as the Executive Chef at Modesto’s own Galletto Ristorante.

Modestoview (MV) sat down with Chef John (CJ) over cocktails at Surla’s to ask him 12 questions.

MV: What made you decide to become a chef?
CJ: My mother was my biggest influence and she was a great cook! I knew that I wanted to cook when I was in the 1st grade after watching Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) on TV. My mom recognized this interest and steered me in the right direction. She entertained a lot and I was her sous chef at a very young age. The first thing I remember cooking was fried rice with sausage, peas, and carrots. It was delicious!

MV: It’s a big step opening your own restaurant, particularly when you did. What was the tipping point?
CJ: After I left Galletto I decided to pursue my dream. It was a huge leap of faith because it was mid 2009, during one of the worst economic downturns that this area has ever seen. I was confident in my abilities, I had assembled a great staff, so I knew that I would succeed.

MV: What is the most popular item on the menu?
CJ: Lumpia. It’s wrapped grilled chicken, shitake mushrooms, pepper jack cheese that’s deep fried and then drizzled with sweet chili sauce and scallions.

MV: What is your favorite item on the menu?
CJ: The miso-glazed salmon. It’s delicious!

MV: What three items are always in your refrigerator at home?
CJ: Bottled water, Dannon yogurt and eggs.

MV: What is your favorite meal from your childhood?
CJ: The chicken adobo that my mom made. I have it on the menu now. It’s Filipino braised chicken, with Italian style tomatoes, jasmine rice, and a soy vinegar jus.

MV: What is your culinary indulgence?
CJ: Ihave a real sweet tooth and I love candy. My favorite is Reese’s Pieces.

MV: Have you ever cooked for anyone famous?
CJ: Dot Marie Jones from Glee and Timothy Olyphant are both regulars at Surla’s. When I was at Galletto many of the performers at the Gallo Center would have their pre-performance meal at the restaurant. I remember Tony Bennett had a Penne Bolognese before his opening night performance several years ago. When I worked in L.A. I cooked for both Bono and Drew Carey.

MV: If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would you invite and what would you prepare?
CJ: I’d invite Chef Daniel Boloud and Chef Arnold Pulido because they are my culinary heroes. Of course my mom, Corazon Surla, because she is my earliest inspiration and I love her. I’d prepare pan seared scallops as the appetizer and braised beef short ribs for the entrée. We’d wash it down with the 2002 Duckhorn Merlot. For dessert I’d prepare a white chocolate mousse.

MV: What do you do in your spare time?
CJ: I like to work out and I like to eat out.

MV: Where do you like to go out to eat in Modesto?
CJ: Tasty Taco has the best tacos in town. I also like the dim sum at Dynasty Chinese Restaurant. When I feel like sushi I go to Miki’s and get the Godzilla Roll. They also have a great happy hour.

MV: What’s the best part of owning your own restaurant?
CJ: The best part is building my business and interacting with my loyal customers. I also have a great staff that I enjoy working with.

John Surla, Entrepreneur and owner of Surla’s Restaurant, has been cooking since third grade. A graduate of the Diablo Valley College in Concord, California, John studied and mastered Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry, and Restaurant Management. He has over 17 years of experience in the food industry and, in particular, has cooked for world renowned companies such as LucasFilm, Mondavi, and Galletto’s. Last year, he has brought it all together and opened his own restaurant which showcases his talents in California cuisine. There, everyone is able to taste his passion for food and wine!

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About the Author:

Rick is the Senior VP of Sales for Stanislaus Food Products and travels the USA visiting and sampling the best restaurants and loves the cuisine here in Modesto.