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Nick Parrillo, originally from Studio City, California, first visited Sayulita on a surf trip with his cousin, Damien Porter, approximately 22 years ago. They both fell in love with the fishing village, the waves, and the whole area, and they decided to stay and open a restaurant. Nick already had an impressive culinary background, having gone to culinary school in Palm Desert, California, and taken advanced courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. He’d worked in various restaurants in the Los Angeles area; Rebecca´s Venice Beach, I Cugini Santa Monica, Pazzia West Hollywood, Rex il Ristorante Downtown Los Angeles, and Prego Beverly Hills. So, when he and Damien opened Don Pedro’s in 1994, Sayulita was lucky to have them.
So, first off, how did your passion for cooking develop?
I have always loved cooking and as a small child, I used to help my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. I would often sneak down into the kitchen alone and come up with all kinds of weird concoctions making a huge mess in the process...my excuse to my parents was that I was ‘creating.’
How did you get your start as a chef?
After I finished high school I was working a lot of different odd jobs trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. When I thought about it, the only thing I really liked to do in my spare time was cook, hang out, and party with my friends, so I decided to go to culinary school to become a chef.
What made you want to cook professionally in Sayulita?
I loved the laid back lifestyle and the friendly local vibe and I was looking for a change of pace from L.A. When we first got here, there was only El Costeno and one taco stand operating, so we figured the town could handle a restaurant bar.
Are there any challenges to being a chef in Sayulita, what is harder and what is easier?
There are many challenges in running a full service restaurant in Sayulita. The main problems are dealing with the poor infrastructure; power outages, brown-outs, and water shortages. All of which damage equipment and increase waste, sending costs higher. Staffing and retaining skilled labor is always a challenge in a seasonal tourist town. The easiest thing is being able to get fresh, local seafood.
How would you describe your culinary style?
California Mediterranean Cuisine with strong influences from Mexico/Latin America and Asia.
What do you like about being the chef at Don Pedro’s?
Being right in front of the beach, watching the boats come in with the fresh catch of the day and having the freedom to create and innovate.
What are your favorite, fresh from Sayulita ingredients to use?
Fresh ahí tuna or whatever is fresh from the sea that day. Also, tropical fruits when in season, like passion fruit and mangos.
When creating a complete meal in Sayulita, what factors do you take into consideration?
First, finding the highest quality and freshest ingredients. Secondly, keep it simple, not over powering the main element of a dish. It comes down to a balance of flavors; sweetness, salty, sour, and bitterness. Texture and presentation also are important, but flavor is number one.
Do you have a signature dish? If so, what is it and how would you describe it?
Our mussels Provencal braised with white wine, tomatoes, butter, garlic and herbs, served with our homemade crusty flatbread.
Will you share your most entertaining “kitchen disaster” story?
We were preparing for one of our very first weddings at the restaurant when state authorities showed up and told us that ‘ley seca’ was in place and we could not serve any alcohol on premise that day because it was an election day. We had to scramble to find an available private location to move the party. Luckily our good friend, Lalo Portillo, lent us his house for the event. We only had a few hours to move the entire wedding to Casa de Los Delfines and set up on the terrace. Once we got everything in place and began serving, we got hit with a tremendous rainstorm that soaked the entire wedding party. Thank God that they were good sports. We served the entire meal in the rain and everyone drank, ate, and enjoyed a swim in the pool with music blasting.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool to use in Sayulita and why?
The mesquite wood fired rotisserie grill. It is the best way to cook whole birds or suckling pigs; it gives a great crispy skin while keeping the meat moist with a nice smoky flavor.
If you could recommend one other Sayulita restaurant other than yours, what would it be?
I don’t really eat out much in Sayulita. I am either busy at the restaurant or cooking for my family at home. When I do get a chance to pick something up in town I buy Kary´s mesquite grilled chicken on Ninos Heroes; they’re only open on the weekends. It’s a simple citrus marinated mesquite grilled chicken with fresh salsa, tortillas, and a decent coleslaw.
If you had to choose a last meal, what would it be?
Probably some jumbo scallop handrolls with roasted Thai peppers.