At his ever-growing seafood-focused culinary empire, Executive Chef & Restaurateur Michael Cimarusti, winner of the 2019 James Beard ‘Best Chef: West’ award, combines his knowledge and appreciation of the dynamic nature of seafood with an advocacy for sustainable fishing practices evident in every dish. Cimarusti’s acclaimed first restaurant Providence, a bastion of Los Angeles fine dining for over a decade, has yielded numerous James Beard Award nominations and two highly coveted Michelin stars. Located in the heart of West Hollywood, Connie and Ted’s pays homage to Cimarusti’s grandparents and the simple, honest seafood cookery of New England.
“Seafood has inspired me in a personal way from the very start,” Cimarusti 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.”
The New Jersey native was first lured to L.A. by Wolfgang Puck to become chef de cuisine at the original Spago, followed by stints at New York City’s Osteria del Circo; the Michelin three-starred Arpège; and Le Cirque, where he cooked with legends such as Paul Bocuse, Roger Vergé, and Gérard Boyer. He then spent six years at downtown L.A.’s famed Water Grill, earning a national reputation for his fish mastery.
His path for a storied culinary career was spurred from experience in his youth: fishing with his grandfather and learning 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, Cimarusti, Echiverri, and Co-Owner/General Manager Donato Poto operate a total of four distinctive concepts across Los Angeles including Providence, Connie & Ted’s, Best Girl, and Il Pesce Cucina. Outside of his restaurants, Michael actively supports the Alex’s Lemonade Foundation and always finds time to go fishing with his two children and wife, Crisi.
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.
With fifteen years in the hospitality industry, David Osenbach directs the wine program at Providence, Los Angeles’ seafood-focused bastion of fine dining led by lauded chef, Michael Cimarusti.
Before entering into the world of food and wine, Osenbach was, quite literally, classically trained. While at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio, he found himself taking catering jobs to stay afloat while earning degrees in music composition and orchestral conducting. Incited by cooking, Osenbach enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York, pulling from his nuanced and expressive musical training to help perfect his culinary technique.
Osenbach navigated his way through the industry, working both front-of-the-house and in the kitchen at various restaurants on the East Coast, including Biba and Pignoli in Boston. With the encouragement of friends and the lure of the booming restaurant scene in Los Angeles (not to mention the weather), he decided to relocate to California, where, in 2001, he became the general manager and beverage director at Röckenwagner Restaurant in Santa Monica. During his tenure there, he helped shepherd the restaurant to attain first of many Wine Spectator awards, as well as nurture an impressive collection of German and Austrian wines, many of which were new to Southern California diners at the time.
In 2003, he went on to become the general manager at the award-winning Zax Restaurant in Brentwood, and in 2005, Santa Monica’s decorated Josie Restaurant, where he spent the next ten years spearheading the beverage program for its fine dining flagship and later, its accompanying casual eatery, Next Door by Josie. During this time he also consulted on a number of food and beverage projects, including the opening wine list development for Bluestem in Kansas City and its James Beard Award-winning chef, Colby Garrelts.
In the Fall of 2015, Osenbach joined the team at Providence, which he considers one of the more notable moments in his career. “I wholeheartedly believe people should drink what they like, regardless of what’s supposed to pair well with what they’re eating,” says Osenbach. “At Providence, we aim to strike a balance between a selection that reflects what is new and interesting in the wine world, and what is familiar to people. Our ultimate goal is to broaden our guests’ horizons and encourage them to try something unexpected.”
Osenbach, who is also certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and an Advanced Specialist in Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, brings with him a broad knowledge of the food and wine world, and a natural aptitude for fostering harmony in whatever he orchestrates.