It’s an otherwise sleepy morning at 1717 Washington Street in Pasadena. Except it’s Wednesday. At Deluxe 1717—secret headquarters of Chef Onil Chibas—Wednesday is when it all happens, and things start early here.
By 9 a.m., a bustling team has converged. The cheerful Mimi Montero ushers us into the small “dining room” dominated by a long single dining table, which, in turn, is commandeered by Casey Cullinane and a pile of spreadsheets, busily organizing “delivery logistics.”
As we make our way to the kitchen in back, we encounter local master baker Masako Yatabe, prepping scones at one counter and executive chef Alberto Morales stewing over the stoves. There’s a pleasant sense of effortlessly cooperative collaboration. Hovering brightly over all this activity is the ever-ebullient maestro Chibas.
The atmosphere is wonderful.
Appropriately enough, “Wonderful Wednesdays” is Chibas’ answer to the exigencies and challenges of the pandemic lockdown. Chefs of Chibas’ caliber have devised various solutions to the take-out and delivery conundrum. From elaborate bento boxes to packaged family-style meal sets, fine dining chefs pivoted to offer a wide gamut of choices during the pandemic. Chibas’ “Wonderful Wednesdays” is one of the best.
Each Wednesday, a mindfully curated and crafted four-course dinner is delivered across greater Los Angeles to each week’s subscribers. Every Wednesday menu features a starter and choice of a meat, fish or plant-based entrée, two side dishes and dessert. Delivered in the afternoon, the meals are packaged with instructions for reheating (when necessary).
Why Wednesday? Give it a try. It’s the day when you hit the wall with meal planning and prep. It’s the day, when you want to answer your door and have a cheerful person hand you a couple of bags packed with deliciousness. The catch? You have to be “on the list” of those who receive the weekly menus via email. Now you know!
Chibas may be the most gifted classically trained local chef in town. He’s also largely unsung, except for the legions of long-time fans already in the know. Deluxe 1717 is the latest twist in the long trajectory of his journey. Born to Black Cuban American parents in New York City, Chibas grew up in Queens until moving to South Lancaster, Massachusetts when he was 12 years old.
He studied musicology while playing bassoon at Boston College. His introduction to food came while working front-of-house in Boston-area restaurants immediately following college.
Innately creative, Chibas initially pursued a career in film and moved to Los Angeles in 1991, accordingly. Within months of arriving in Los Angeles, he met his husband-to-be—John Orders, a nonprofit administrator and consultant—and began a six-year stint working in animation production and marketing at Disney. In the meantime, he produced and directed a short film, which loosely presaged his engagement with food, called “Grazer.”
The couple moved to Chicago for a year, when Orders served as associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Art. On return to Los Angeles, Chibas continued working in production and marketing at Sony and Dreamworks until 2004, when “I hit a wall with animation,” as he puts it.
Following his gut, as it were, Chibas enrolled in the 15-month culinary program at the now-shuttered Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Pasadena, where he met long-time collaborator Alberto Morales. He soon opened Elements Kitchen as a catering operation.
“I didn’t want to be a chef or have a restaurant, so of course I became a chef and had a restaurant.”
A lunch café opened out of the catering business and before long, interested backers began encouraging larger ambitions. His formal restaurant—Elements—opened in the courtyard dining space across from Pasadena Playhouse in 2010. A fine-dining concept featuring imaginative and changing seasonal menus, Elements set a high local standard and was well ahead of its time. So much so, that a combination of professional and personal exigencies forced its untimely closure in 2012.
Regardless, Chibas’ reliable base of catering clients continued to grow. Working out of his home kitchen until the volume of business made it untenable, he began looking for a new space. Minutes away from Chibas’ capacious, northwest Pasadena home he shares with Orders, Deluxe 1717’s well-equipped kitchen and small dining room provided the perfect venue for prepping and staging his catering jobs, while providing fresh inspiration for some new ideas.
Before long, Chibas began hosting multicourse weekend dinners at Deluxe 1717. Served family style at the long communal table, guests had to be “on the list” of Chibas’ extended family of friends, colleagues and clients. Collaboration is always a key component. Chibas is on the board of the Urban Homestead Institute (Pasadena Weekly, April 22) and the thriving local urban farm routinely supplies fresh produce for his dinners. In the last year, he began a guest chef series that began with an eight-course kaiseki-style Japanese feast engineered by Masako Yatabe.
Peripatetic local genius Chef Laurent Quenioux (Pasadena Weekly April 1) maintained a beachhead at the location for several months last year as well.
Hey, it’s Wednesday! What’s for dinner? This particular week, we are still in the midst of a heatwave and no re-heating is required. Let’s start with chilled melon and ginger soup with savory pancetta and grana padano parmesan scones (courtesy of Masako Yatabe). Among the three entrée choices is grilled halibut bedded on a market salad of “sweet and sour” beets, stone fruit, heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers with Verjus dressing. No fish? Marinated hangar steak grilled rare and served cool with a Persian cucumber, fig and red onion salad might fit the bill.
No meat? No problem! Semolina artisanal conchiglie pasta with piquillo pepper aioli dressed out with roasted eggplant and fennel is the pasta salad that only Chibas could concoct. Each entrée is accompanied by lemon verbena pilaf and green and purple beans with pine nuts and holy basil. Dessert? How about fruit cake cobbler with brown sugar cream, which also happens to be gluten-free, by the way. Now, you can also order cookies by Luvvie’s Delights. These chocolate chip, oatmeal and walnut confections are the work of long-time Chibas’ collaborator Marva Sutton.
This week, the halibut and steak entrée dinners were priced at $45 each and the pasta salad at $38. A $7 charge is added for home delivery. Prices vary slightly from week to week depending on the menu and payment can be made via Venmo, Zelle, CashApp or check. Orders must be placed by 6 p.m. Tuesday, the day before delivery. By the way, the packaging and containers can be returned for reuse.
As Chibas explains, he’s not out for individual bragging rights. Again, it’s the collaboration that counts. “I have good taste. I know how to curate,” he said. “It sparks so much more creativity.”
Until his small, exquisite and exclusive dining room at Deluxe 1717 opens again, all the evidence you need is in a paper bag delivered directly to your door on Wednesday. What could be more wonderful?