Chef John Rivera Sedlar
Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, John Rivera Sedlar had his first taste of Latin cooking in the kitchens of his mother, aunts, and beloved Grandma Eloisa. "My favorite time of year," Sedlar remembers, "was before Christmas, when they would gather together in my aunts' kitchen in Abiquiu, the village where Georgia O'Keeffe lived, to make huge mountains of bizcochitos, empanaditas, and tamales. If I close my eyes, I can still smell those fragrant aromas and taste those sweet, spicy, earthy foods."Sedlar's knowledge of global Latin food traditions expanded during the three years his family spent living in Sevilla and Zaragoza, Spain, when he was 8, 9, and 10 years old.
Honest, down-to-earth experiences fueled Sedlar's drive to become a chef. He worked his way through popular restaurants in Santa Fe before moving to Southern California, where he won a local following in the South Bay region in his early 20s. "But I knew there had to be more than cooking surf-and-turf specials," he says.
That quest for something more led John Rivera Sedlar to leave his successful restaurant job to apprentice himself to the legendary chef Jean Bertranou at L'Ermitage in Los Angeles. “Chef Bertranou taught me what it really means to be a chef, from the mastery of basic techniques to a respect for and understanding of ingredients to how a chef goes about conceiving and creating new dishes. It was the best education I could have ever had."
Sedlar first gained national attention from food lovers and journalists alike in the early 1980s when he combined his classical training with memories of his New Mexico childhood to create what he called Modern Southwest Cuisine, a description that also became the title of Sedlar's first book. He continued to create beautiful, delicious, innovative food at his next restaurants, first Bikini and then Abiquiu, both in Santa Monica. As Sedlar's profile as a chef continued to grow, so did his passionate interest in the Latin culinary traditions that were such a prominent element of his cuisine.
Thus began for John Rivera Sedlar a 14-year-long odyssey that would take him to places as diverse as Macchu Pichu, Cuzco, Rio de Janiero, Santiago, Cataluña, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, to eat with, create food alongside, and learn from authentic cooks wherever his travels took him. He also participated regularly in culinary symposia, where he shared his findings with other food scholars. As a spokesperson for Patron Tequila, Sedlar also learned in depth the complexities of Mexico's singular renowned spirit. And, when time and travels allowed, Sedlar catered private parties and events for prestigious individuals and organizations in Southern California, across the United States, and as far away as Moscow and Tokyo.
In 2011, Sedlar was named “Chef of the Year” by Esquire and Rivera Restaurant received the title of “Best New Restaurants 2011”. In 2009, Sedlar was named “Chef of the Year” by Angeleno and in both 2012 and 2013 Chef Sedlar was nominated for Best Chef Pacific by the James Beard Foundation.