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Chef-owner Colin MacLaggan grew up in San Diego. "I was the kind of kid who could always go into the kitchen and whip up something that tasted good. The restaurant lifestyle attracted me -- I was a busboy, then a waiter, then a bartender, but I finally realized that I wasn't that much of a people person. I'm more of an introvert. So I found my life in the back, in the kitchen. And I love music. I was a music major, and I figured one day I'll have my own restaurant and play my own music and have the freedom to do what I want to do. Have my own kitchen to do what I please. We play an iPod [over the sound system]. I probably have a thousand songs I collected in my travels, everything from Miles Davis to Latin to a really progressive but not-too-intense trance song. You can hear the music in the background at the restaurant. It's quite diverse, but I think that's what our restaurant is.

"I went to Catholic school here, and that's where I first met Nick [Carbonne], the GM, and we worked together in restaurants all through our lives. After high school, I got my associate's degree and didn't know where I wanted to go to college, and since I was working in restaurants, I decided to get a live experience of language and everything else I could get out of it -- but I couldn't get a visa for the Cordon Bleu in France, so I went to the one in London. I got the Grand Diplôme in April 1999, which is when you take both the pastry and the cuisine program at the same time. It's really tough -- you have to go through back-to-back finals. You go to an eight-hour final, take a ten-minute break, and then you have another final. I love the perfect science of pastry, but cuisine -- I love the fast pace, the creativity, and unlike pastry, you can always fix it if it goes wrong...So now, when it comes to pastries, I'm just a little bistro guy. I do homemade stuff, not super-garnished stuff.

"Meanwhile, I worked for Terrence Conran of the Conran Group in London. I was one of just a few students who worked the whole time I was studying. This made me who I am. Being the only American in a British-French kitchen, I got my skin toughened up quite right. They didn't just call me a Yank; at first they thought I was a Muslim because I'm big and dark, and I got all these bad looks from the waitstaff. I was starting to get real grief from those guys, until I finally told them that I'm Mexican and Scottish, and they were, like, 'Okay, that explains everything.'

"Then I found myself coming back home, and straightaway I worked for Doug Organ, first at Wine Sellar and then at Laurel...I went to work for Martin [Woesle] at Mille Fleurs, and...opening Bertrand at Mr. A's [as junior sous-chef], and that's where I met Carl Schroeder. We hit it off right away, we had the same theories about food and the same techniques, and then we opened Arterra together. I left because I didn't like working for the Marriott. Then I helped a friend open Crush, setting up the menu there, and went on to the La Jolla Country Club. All I wanted to do was cook and golf, not deal with the public. For a brief time, I worked at Rancho Valencia during that period of transition while they were renovating and shuffling chefs around. It wasn't for me. And then, with Nick as maitre d' and sommelier and business expertise from my brother, we were able to open this place.

"Most of my dishes are simple -- three-component dishes. Food is very personal: you put it in your mouth, you feel textures, you taste tastes. Maybe it's because of my Old World training, but -- I'm not trying to be on TV, and I'm not trying to do science projects on a plate. I want to eat and enjoy food, and that's it! If I don't personally eat it, I'm not going to serve it to you. And for this place, we're trying to train our service staff to build in all the fine-dining skills, but without the pretentiousness or the price tag attached. We know what we're doing, we like what we do, but we don't have to charge you extra for that."

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