I asked him about his favorite dishes and why he came to Pelican Hill. I also discovered where he goes for a few drinks after a long day at work. I'm probably the only reporter to find out this important detail.
Thomas spent nine years in the Ritz Carlton system all over the world and also worked for other hotel companies. He said he came to Newport Coast because it is rare to get the opportunity to be part of the building of such a luxurious resort, in Southern California, with an independent owner (The Irvine Company) that is willing to spend for quality.
"I'll never find that again in my career," he said.
Thomas said the attention to detail comes straight from the top. Irvine Chairman Donald Bren is in the restaurant every day, asking "How is it going? Have you tried this?" Thomas said.
"They will give you whatever it is you want," he said. "You never find that."
This is the 15th restaurant Thomas has opened, and he knows the drill. For the first 60 to 90 days, he'll work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. or so, seven days a week. Then, when his staff begins to think like him, he'll dial back a bit.
Now after those 15-hour days, he heads to the bar in The Ritz in Newport Beach for a couple of drinks. You'll be able to spot him there - he'll be the one wearing the white chef coat.
Here are his picks from the Pelican Grill menu. Many of the ingredients are all natural, seasonal and locally sourced:
The shrimp cocktail with its own ice sculpture
Shorts ribs cooked in the olive wood burning oven
Tri-colored organic tomato salad
Trio of chocolate dessert, including a ganache, gelato and cake.