"I didn't disappear. I was doing other things. I did exactly what I wanted to do."
"I missed the experience of cooking for people," says Sedlar. He says he returned to restaurants not humbled but "more reserved."
"John was more worried than I was" about his food, says Chait, who has been friends with Sedlar since his Bikini days. "It's very contemporary food with his visual style. Now it's unusual, but it's very '80s." In a town where and at a time when it's all about casual presentation, Sedlar's plates — stenciled with spices or decorated with photographs under a plate of glass — stand out.
And though the more-than-$2-million Rivera opened in the middle of the recession, Chait, also a majority partner in Playa, says both restaurants have been "very, very successful.
"We had planned [Rivera] before [the recession] hit. We thought we were heading into halcyon days," Chait says. "It's not a fine-dining restaurant, but it is chef-style dining. John adjusted the menu" when it became apparent that the economy wasn't going to support fine dining.
Sedlar says he has plans for "a top-notch, stellar Latin restaurant" in the museum he refers to as the Museum Tamal, a center for Latin culinary arts and history. Walking through the 4,800-square-foot temporary headquarters on Hope Street, he says, "we need 20 of these, no less."
It would be quixotic if he weren't tenacious enough to have already culled sponsorships from food companies, doggedly and meticulously collected and organized exhibits, and negotiated gallery spaces throughout the city for temporary shows such as "Five Centuries of Cuisine in L.A." or "Comidas Prehispanicas."
"I've also had a fantasy to open a Latin restaurant in Paris. I think they would love it. Being French-trained, for me, it would be a full circle." Again.