“Local Tastemakers” is a collection of intimate interviews exploring Newport Beach’s flavor and flair through the eyes of the city’s most captivating chefs and restauranteurs during a time that has heavily impacted the restaurant and hospitality communities. Follow along every week to get to know familiar faces and the secrets to the dish that made them a locals’ favorite.
This week we connected with Executive Chef and Partner Riley Huddleston of The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub + Kitchen. Situated on the site of the original Newport Beach City Hall, The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub + Kitchen, or known to locals as simply Mayor’s Table, showcases a stately menu of the very best Newport Beach has to offer – fresh fish, prime cuts of beef and seasonal produce are the highlight of each dish.
A true global epicurean, Chef Riley has tasted and tried it all. Born in Montana, but raised in the Pacific North West, Chef Riley’s passion for food has taken him to jobs in Chicago and the Caribbean before landing in coastal Newport Beach. No detail is ever overlooked on the menu at Mayor’s Table – he even flew to France to create a custom blend of vintage champagne with Piper-Heidsieck, the same name his daughter was given after finding out they were expecting during their trip. Outside of the kitchen, Chef Riley cherishes family time with his wife and daughter soaking in the sunshine Newport Beach has to offer year-round.
Chef Riley Huddleston & The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub + Kitchen
Why/how did you get into the restaurant industry?
I love to travel and experience new cultures, so in high school I figured this was the fastest and cheapest way to do so. That idea has taken me around the world and lead me to work in some of the best kitchens.
What is the best part of your job?
Sharing my passion and creativity with my team and guests are the best parts of my job. It’s very similar to a sports team – when we wrap up a great service, I am so proud of my team and it feels like we won a championship.
What is the most popular thing on the menu and what is your favorite?
It has to be the Pacific Grilled Swordfish with chermoula and locally roasted root vegetables. This is my favorite dish because it’s not every day you can find fresh swordfish, which is also my favorite fish, on a menu.
Looking Back at 2020
Taking you back to March 2020, tell us what the first month of the pandemic was like for your restaurant?
It was very confusing and exhausting to pivot with new state and county mandates going into effect and changing constantly. Trying to lead a team without any answers was a really difficult time, but I had to be vulnerable, be open and be honest with all of the information I did have. Eventually when we had to shut down operations for the unforeseen future, seeing the dining room empty with no pulse was very emotional.
Talk to us about all the ways you pivoted your operation?
At the beginning, we started a simple take-out operation through delivery services. However, it’s important to note that guests come to Mayor’s Table for the full experience, so we started doing cocktails and food to-go on our outdoor patio. We started seeing joy on people’s faces again through our offerings which inspired us to expand our operations to Topside Bar at Lido House, where we were able to function as a full-service restaurant on the rooftop. It was a huge success and a model we hope to further develop when outdoor service returns.
How has this past year affected your staff?
It truly has affected everyone on our team – from great team members we couldn’t bring back at all, to volume, to emotion and financial struggles.
The Silver Lining
Is there a particular act of heroism from your staff or loyal clientele that has touched your heart?
Our regulars have been a true blessing this past year and have supported our team by dining multiple times a week or by leaving very generous gratuities. It’s been amazing to see the support from our community.
What does it mean to be part of the Newport Beach community?
It’s truly an honor to be a part of this community which has shown incredible resilience to the effects of 2020.
From a restaurant’s perspective, what’s one thing you want locals/the public to know about your industry or restaurant?
All industries have been impacted, but the hospitality industry has been hit the hardest and may never recover or be the same again. It’s so important to dine at their favorite neighborhood places, continue to support local businesses and encourage others to do so.
We have a very supportive Newport Beach community, what are specific things people can do to help our restaurants?
While we are shut down for indoor and outdoor dining, please order take-out. When we can open outdoor dining again, I encourage everyone to get out to as many restaurants as they can safely…experience something new.
What is your ultimate hope for 2021?
I hope that we can reopen safely to the full extent and see the smiling faces of our guests once again in our restaurants.