How Providence’s pre-dinner meeting is the key to its 17-year dominance in Los Angeles

At 4 pm, the Michelin-starred seafood restaurant Providence Opens in two hours.

In the kitchen, chefs and chefs scale and slice thousands of dollars wild fish, while the staff at the front of the house eat dinner before changing into the servant’s formal attire. Jackets and ties are pressed. Shiny shoes. Chef Michael Cimarostti and co-owner Donato Botto prepare the final rounds of notes during the night. As in many other fine dining restaurants, Providence employees must make the crucial connection between the kitchen and those who interact with diners. Once seated, these diners spend $295 per person to try one of Los Angeles’ most beloved and longest-running tasting menus.

Although Providence is sold out all night – a regular occurrence in its 17-year history – there are a slew of quests left to complete before the first diner-goers arrive. And the clock is ticking.

Restaurant workers eat dinner before customers arrive.

Dinner before customers arrive.

Two restaurant workers have dinner at the bar before customers arrive.

Martin Luther Peoples III and Randolph Dickerson having dinner before dinner.

10:30 am

Reservations are booked weeks or months in advance. Some of them are frequent customers from neighboring cities, while others have traveled from Canada, Belgium or China. Each guest will be seated at a specific table and the team’s personal details included for each dinner—whether it’s an shellfish allergy, a longtime customer, or an anniversary celebration—thanks to reservations officer Han Nah Kim.

Kim arrives at 10:30 a.m., and her errands go far beyond jotting down information. Best described as the day manager, she is the main Providence person who starts the experience and manages expectations at this now famous restaurant in Melrose near Vine Street.

“They need to know there’s only one tasting menu and how we work, and they always like to tell people ahead of time,” Kim says. “We want to make sure people aren’t surprised and we want them to be excited about the tasting menu.”

Providence chef Tristan Aitchison often comes to work as early as Kim. Aitchison worked alongside Cimarusti at the Water Grill when he was just 16, and started in Providence when it opened in 2005. Aitchison’s early hours include a kitchen manager meeting, where the team discusses the night’s previous service and any adjustments that need to be made whether ingredients or Personnel changes or other surprises.

“We treat every ingredient with great respect, and we hope that translates into what we offer,” Aitchison says. “We are not the same restaurant we used to be [one] or five years ago. The goal is to continually improve while maintaining alignment with our standards and to discover a delicious blend they have never tried before.”

A chef cleans oysters with a knife and towel.

Providence Chef de Cuisine Tristan Aitchison.

A chef cleans oysters with a knife and napkin.

Chef Tristan Aitchison cleans oysters.

Restaurant kitchen with workers cleaning workstations.

The kitchen is cleaned before service.

Chef working from his laptop at a restaurant table.

Providence chef/co-owner Michael Cimarosti writes details for the night.

Between noon and 2 in the afternoon

After the kitchen meeting and well before 5 p.m., Aitchison, Cimarosti, and Putu sent additional notes to servers, bus boys, bartenders, assistant manager Sarah Diaz, and captain Martin Luther Peoples III, who also joined Providence in 2005.

“There are a lot of things to remember about this job,” Peoples says. “The menu changes every day. They are constantly changing, and all for the better. Michael needs to change something so that it is always delicious. Then we go over it with the guests, and [note] What allergies do they have. It makes what I do easier and helps us provide a stronger sense of place [customers] You have to be on the trip.”

Martin Luther Peoples III, Director of Providence, wears a tie and suit.

Providence Director Captain Martin Luther Peoples III.

My bartender checks the bottles in the wine storage room.

Providence Wine Director David Ossenbach.

2 pm

Providence wine manager David Ossenbach coordinates deliveries during check-in in the kitchen. It will update the wine list and handle billing while pairing existing menu changes with Providence’s extensive wine selection. At night wine tasting may be among his recommendations. “Michael’s food is complex, but the flavors are always very subtle,” Ossenbach says. “If he prescribes a dish to me based on the ingredients, I have sort of a picture of what the flavor will be. Nothing strange. So that somewhat makes the pairing easier.”

A restaurant worker adjusts his tie.

Nick Bhutto getting dressed for the 5 p.m. meeting.

5 pm

The front of the house gathers into the dining room, which is due to be renovated without a break in service over the coming months. Cimarusti and Poto stand next to each other as the group delves into a conversation about whiskey and bourbon.

Last May, Cimarusti and his wife Crisi Echiverri traveled to Kentucky for two weeks and returned with a new batch of whiskey and bourbon from small distilleries. Limited-edition bottles of whiskey rest on a table while Cimarusti talks for seven minutes about his journey and customers who want to try a sip of his $380. Foreman King of Kentucky.

Two men standing in front of a group of restaurant workers.

Michael Cimarosti and Donato Botto chair the pre-dinner meeting.

A woman in a dark suit speaks in front of restaurant staff.

Assistant Director Sarah Diaz shares the details before dinner.

From there, Cimarusti causally moves on to the menu changes that evening. “Tonight, we have Buckley Bay oysters from British Columbia, four types of caviar from the Netherlands, and a single egg on the menu. All unit members are at home from Hokkaido,” Cimarusti shares.

This special pre-transformation meeting is similar to the one in February 2020, the first I attended in Providence, and just a month before a global pandemic changed the face of the industry forever. Familiar faces were completely attentive. In that meeting, I watched Poto explain service errors from a previous evening, references to silverware, nightly sashimi, and where to drop end dishes. In 2022, Poto designs the room to ensure that the staff is at home with him. Lists details within minutes. “Table 24 at 6:15 is vegetarian, and the chef’s table will be five at 6:30,” Poto says. “In Schedule 54, there is no preference for cheese. Schedule Seven is another significant person celebrating his birthday.”

Waiters, busses, and managers meet before dinner arrives.

The staff at home listen attentively.

Restaurant staff in front of the house learn about changes to the menu in a pre-dinner meeting.

The reception staff listens to Donato Botto.

The chef shares the menu changes with the restaurant staff.

Michael Cimarusti talks through the menu changes.

Two men in beautiful suits talking to each other in a fancy restaurant.

Providence Wine Director David Ossenbach.

Restaurant kitchen staff prepares for dinner.

Kitchen staff preparing for dinner.

Dishes are cleared before dinner is served in the fine dining restaurant.

The employee ensures the cleanliness of the containers.

Cutting vegetables in a fancy restaurant.

Chef de partie Chao-Wei Chen (Ken) carefully chops vegetables.

A kitchen worker chops mushrooms in a fancy restaurant.

Slicing mushrooms.

Restaurant chefs oversee the preparation of dinner service.

Tristan Aitchison walks behind Michael Cimarosti, while head chef Danielle Peterson prepares a dish.

Providence restaurant owners/partners Michael Cimarosti and partner Donato Botto stand next to each other.

Michael Cimarostti and partner Donato Botto.

This plethora of information – menu changes, whiskey offerings, wine pairings, guest preferences – is finally downloaded. It’s time for Randolph Dickerson, who originally worked with Poto for decades, to open the front door. The general feeling in the room is calm now. But as the Providence host has long known, the enthusiastic and professional momentum must remain. “Whether you come at 6pm or 9pm, the same energy needs to be maintained. If it’s 10:30 or 11, you still need to make them feel like it’s still early. You have to conserve your energy and not slow down, although it is slow down.”

The door opens, and the service begins.

A man in a suit and tie opens the front door of a Los Angeles restaurant.

Host Randolph Dickerson opens the door to serve dinner.

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