At his much acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Providence, Co-owner and Chef Michael Cimarusti has created elegant and contemporary seafood-centric cuisine for a decade. The chef and the restaurant have earned national accolades that include several James Beard Award nominations and two highly coveted Michelin stars. He combines his extensive knowledge and appreciation for seafood, with an advocacy for sustainable fishing practices that is evident in each dish he creates. “Seafood has inspired me in a personal way from the very start,” he says. “It is my duty to staunchly support its conservation and best practices, and it’s my privilege to have the opportunity to showcase it on a nightly basis.”
Cimarusti cultivated his reverence for ingredients in his experiences leading up to founding the restaurant in 2005. Prior to Providence, he dedicated six years to serving as executive chef at downtown L.A.’s famed seafood restaurant Water Grill, earning both glowing local reviews and a national reputation for his masterful approach to seafood. The New Brunswick, NJ, native was first lured to L.A. by Wolfgang Puck to become chef de cuisine at the celebrity chef’s original Spago. Cimarusti also worked notable stints at fine-dining institutions in the U.S. and abroad, including New York City’s Osteria del Circo, at which he served as opening chef de cuisine; the Michelin three-starred Arpège with Chef Alain Passard in Paris; and Le Cirque, the iconic New York City establishment from Restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, at which he had the opportunity to cook with renowned French Chefs Paul Bocuse, Roger Vergé, and Gérard Boyer.
His path for a storied culinary career was spurred from experience in his youth: fishing with his grandfather and learning the traditions of his Italian heritage from his grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s cooking. His most influential professional experience came just after graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, when he headed down the Hudson River to New York City to cook at An American Place with Chef Larry Forgione. Working garde manger, the young chef had access to the leading edge of the farm-to-table movement that would soon transform American cuisine. “Much of the reverence I have for ingredients came from my experience with Larry,” Cimarusti says. While working in Forgione’s kitchen, he also met his future wife and business partner, the talented pastry chef Cristina Echiverri.
Today, he and Echiverri operate Providence and Connie & Ted’s, the West Hollywood eatery they opened in 2013, paying homage to Cimarusti’s grandparents and the simple, honest seafood cookery of New England. Outside of his restaurants, the chef actively supports the Special Olympics and always finds time to go fishing with his two children.
Donato Poto was born in Salerno, on Italy’s scenic Amalfi Coast, and always had an interest in seeing the world. After he attended culinary trade school, he first delved into the front of the house as a server in dining rooms throughout Italy and France, as well as with a stint on the luxury cruise liner MS Stardancer, sailing the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, and Alaskan coast. The international hospitality industry drew him in, despite the fact that his family wanted him to pursue a career in medicine. “Traveling to new places and learning new languages sounded more fun than being a doctor,” quips Poto, who is now regarded as one of L.A.’s most gracious, consummate hosts at the much acclaimed Providence.
Poto has been part of the Los Angeles dining scene since the late ’80s. One of his first roles was assistant manager at Primi, which was at the time the newest restaurant from Valentino Owner Piero Selvaggio. Selvaggio mentored Poto on meticulously attending to details and handling challenging situations with aplomb. Poto became general manager and stayed 12 years at Primi and Valentino. Interested in gaining greater financial-management expertise in preparation of someday opening his own restaurant, Poto entered the training program at King’s Seafood Company and was named senior manager at downtown’s Water Grill, the flagship restaurant. It was there that he met, and came to greatly respect, Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti.
Poto served as the opening general manager at Bastide, the exclusive West Hollywood restaurant at which Alain Giraud was opening chef and which subsequently garnered four stars from the Los Angeles Times. Then in 2004, when Poto happened upon Cimarusti at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and learned the chef was also looking to open his own restaurant, the duo decided to collaborate, introducing Providence the following year. “We had great respect for each other’s skills and became very excited about opening a high-end seafood concept,” recalls Poto, who notes that as dining trends in L.A. have become more relaxed, Providence’s elegance has become more distinctive.
In 2013, Poto partnered again with Cimarusti in Connie & Ted’s, a West Hollywood restaurant serving a more casual, New England-inspired seafood menu.
Not surprisingly, Poto has a tremendous passion for discovering new foods and wine, and he keeps in shape by religiously participating in weekly soccer games. Outside of work, he is also active with Special Olympics and Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and he enjoys spending quality family time with his wife, Natacha, and their two sons.
A Los Angeles native, Tristan Aitchison’s culinary career began when he was a mere teenager after his godfather suggested he work a day in the kitchen at Downtown’s lauded Water Grill. From just a few hours, a career was born. Impressed by his dedication, Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti encouraged him to stage in the kitchen on the weekends while Aitchison was finishing high school. Not only did the experience afford him first-hand access to one of the most lauded chefs in the country, but it offered a glimpse of the rarified air of the sense of family that is unique to kitchens nationwide.
Soon, Aitchison was heading the garde manger station at the restaurant, a position he would hold for three years. With a pre-existing passion for graphic design, his plating took a cue from the visual arts, ensuring each dish was as stunning as it was delicious. When Cimarusti left Water Grill to open his Michelin-starred restaurant Providence, he ensured Aitchison would follow. During Providence’s construction, Aitchison spent time in the kitchens of internationally acclaimed restaurants French Laundry and The Fat Duck, during which he would live with host families—be they the restaurant’s meat butcher or a local culinary enthusiast. Again, the spirit of community was tangible. From breaking down unheralded cuts of meat to understanding the meticulous science that ensures all aspects of an ingredient are utilized to their best, Aitchison arrived at the newly opened Providence an evolved chef.
Working side-by-side with Cimarusti for 12 years, he has gleaned a reverence for simplicity and respect for the pure nature of ingredients—tenets which are evident in the dishes he imagines today. Aitchison was a member of the esteemed USA Bocuse d’Or team in 2012 and was named one of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” in 2014. When not manning the stoves, he can be found cavorting with his English Bulldogs, Chips and Zeus.