Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Chefs

5 Questions for Sonny Sweetman

Sonny sweetmanSonny Sweetman is executive chef of Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. Sweetman started his culinary career with an after-school job in his hometown of Reisterstown, Md., then worked with certified master chefs in the U.S. and Austria before joining Wolfgang Puck Catering. Now he's overseeing Puck's latest, focusing on modern California cuisine with European and Mediterranean influences, such as osetra caviar with corn puree and crispy beef tendon, or lamb saddle with persillade and smoked eggplant.

What’s coming up next on your menu? Heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms, sweet summer corn and Copper River salmon.... These items are all summer ingredients that are available at our local farmers market.  

Latest ingredient obsession? Kalamansi –- it’s a citrus fruit that I use in just about everything. It is versatile, fragrant and has great flavor!

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? I cannot live without a spoon! There is a lady in San Francisco who I order a variety of unique antique spoons from. These are my favorite spoons, and I use them for everything.... The most important part of cooking is tasting.

Favorite kitchen soundtrack? One of my favorites is Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. 

What chef has most influenced you? Chef Matt Bencivenga and chef Lee Hefter. I have known chef Bencivenga since college, he is not only a mentor in the kitchen but a mentor in my life. Bencivenga has beaten every odd in life and is a remarkable figure. He is a hard worker, very driven, but most importantly, the kindest person I know. Hefter is also an extremely hard-working, talented and driven human being. He is an incredible technician with food and has taught me a lot in the kitchen and I would not be where I am at today without his guidance.

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, 701 Stone Canyon Road, Bel Air, (310) 472-1211, www.hotelbelair.com/wolfgang-puck-bel-air. 

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-- Betty Hallock

5 Questions for Eric Park

Eric park

Eric Park is the chef-owner of Black Hogg, the latest restaurant to open on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. Park's cooking has been called "exuberant rustic-urban cooking" (by a Times restaurant critic), showcasing big flavors -- such as in longaniza sausage hash, pork chop with mojo sauce and a "buttery" lamb burger with Onetik blue cheese. (It's called buttery because butter is mixed into the ground meat.) 

What’s coming up next on your menu? I have a lamb belly dish I'm working on that's reminiscent of the fare at the famous halal cart on 53rd and 6th in NYC. Also look for ceviche, grilled sardines and octopus, and my take on BBQ to come this summer.

Latest ingredient obsession? Middle Eastern flavors. Coriander, cumin, sumac.... Just finished making our own house-made harissa.  

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? I frequent La Cevicheria on Pico Boulevard. Amazing ceviches. Pho 87 in Chinatown for their fatty brisket and tendon pho. Park's BBQ on Vermont -- some of the best meat in town.

Favorite kitchen soundtrack? Arcade Fire, the Strokes, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, the Cure, Penny and the Quarters. 

What chef has most influenced you? April Bloomfield. I externed at the Spotted Pig for several months while in New York. She probably will not even remember me, but I was in awe of her and absorbed everything there like a sponge.

Black Hogg, 2852 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 953-2820, www.blackhogg.com.

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-- Betty Hallock

Photo credit: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

Chef Marcus Samuelsson talks about art, ethnicity

Marcus SamuelssonAt chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Red Rooster Harlem, diners can see art by the L.A. native Sanford Biggers. The men are friends and clearly feel an appreciation for each other’s art, which they discussed at the Hammer Museum in one of its series that pairs creative thinkers from various disciplines.

They became friends in the mid-1990s in New York, where they acknowledged they hit the party scene “pretty hard.” Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, was chef at the Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit on the East Side of Manhattan.

Both men, Samuelsson said, share a love of art and of the craftsmanship involved in making it –- whether it's his food or Biggers’ sculptures. Samuelsson said he learned “pretty early on” that he had to leave Sweden to find the education he needed; he cooked in Japan, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe as well as New York.

“To be an artist of any kind you have to be nimble, you have to be flexible,” said Biggers, whose work has been shown at the Tate in London, the Whitney in New York and many other places. His work includes installations, video and performance; he also is a professor at Columbia University.

The pair spoke to a full auditorium on Sunday, and afterward Samuelsson signed copies of his new memoir, “Yes, Chef.”

The men also talked about the effect of being young black men in worlds where many of their clients or customers are white. Samuelsson –- dressed in hip royal blue slacks rolled up to the shin and a pork pie hat -- joked that once his colleagues understood “I wasn’t dangerous, I wasn’t going to rob them,” his ethnicity wasn’t a factor. He was yelled at like any young cook in a high-end kitchen.

Biggers noted that artists of color have been prominent for some time. His work often involves African American themes. A huge lotus flower, for example, looks lacey and lovely from afar; up close, it’s clear that each petal is a diagram of a slave ship showing how people were packed into small spaces.

“In cooking, everyone knew black people cooked and served, they just didn’t have the title of chef,” Samuelsson observed. In many kitchens where he worked there were few women and no people of color as chefs.

“Black people had to work really hard to get out of the kitchen,” Samuelsson noted. “Now they have to work really hard to get back in.”

The staff at Rooster is diverse, including half female, and he said: “Most women are just better at cooking,” although the physical frenzy of line cooks “fits the young guys.”

Men and women approach cooking differently, he said. For men, it’s “I can get this tomato to look like a carrot and then like a sea urchin. When all you want on a Sunday was for a tomato to look like a tomato.”

Biggers praised Samuelsson’s influence on the Harlem neighborhood where Red Rooster opened, noting that he has helped to make the neighborhood more vital, more appealing for residents, workers and visitors.

Biggers and Samuelsson joked about their reaction to critics.

“I like to buy them a lot of drinks,” Biggers said.

“Oh. Same,” Samuelsson said.

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Photo: Marcus Samuelsson  Credit: Associated Press

5 Questions for Laurent Quenioux

Laurent
Laurent Quenioux is the chef behind the pop-up series "LQ @ ..." -- most recently LQ @ SK, in collaboration with downtown's Starry Kitchen, a melding of culinary minds that sparked the LQ + SK 420 weed dinners (yes, that kind of weed). He's also the executive chef at Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena. His current pop-up is LQ @ Barneys featuring a seven-course menu of his idiosyncratic dishes (rabbit tartare with yuzu kosho and chocolate muffin, for example). And Quenioux, who is from Sologne, France, doesn't roll without his cheese cart -- a selection of as many as 37 cheeses from around the world.

What's coming up next on your menu? Melon -- right now I love melon. I wish we could get the Cavaillon melon from France, but we can’t, so I am working with watermelon at Vertical. It looks like we will do a salad of Dungeness crab, watermelon, pickled red onions, sweet peas, cucumber and a lime vinaigrette for the new summer menu. For the upcoming pop-up we will do an amuse consisting of compressed watermelon, black garlic, fish sauce and geoduck.

Latest ingredient obsession? This changes almost daily, but epazote is great ... the complexity of the herb makes it an ingredient that isn’t very user-friendly. The fragrance is so strong that it will contaminate fragile herbs like chervil or sorrel or purslane, for example, unless the right balance is achieved. Epazote is king right now on my painter's palette.

Describe your favorite day off away from the kitchen. Do chefs have days off?! I typically work seven days a week most of the time unless the pop-up is in a hiatus mode, so I did get a few days off in June, which consisted of biking, hiking, gardening and the beach. At night large groups of friends come to my house to cook and eat late into the evening.

What’s your favorite breakfast? My favorite breakfast away from home is at Huge Tree Bakery in Monterey Park, which is Taiwanese. I always order the salted soy milk (love those curds), sweet tofu, beef sandwich and you tiao (which is a Chinese donut). At home it is two poached eggs and a slice of Michel Blanchet smoked salmon, a few chives and green onions from the garden and a ghost chile from the garden because I’m trying  to lose weight these days.

What chef has most influenced you? Jean Louis Palladin.  He was a true chef, a chef that worked in the kitchen with his mind in the kitchen all day long, not a star chef, not a chef that roams the dining room. He was passionate to the extreme and always creating (not copying others and God knows how many people copied from him). I think he represents the epitome of what a true chef should be: cooking, teaching, looking for the best resources for product, motivating young cooks, motivating young farmers, hunters, fishermen, guests, personnel. He was humble and shy, creative and generous, and didn’t parade to food shows or TV shows. Again, he was a true chef.

Reservations for LQ @ Barneys can be made online at bistrolq.com. Vertical Wine Bistro, 70 N. Raymond Ave. (upstairs), Pasadena, (626) 795-3999, www.verticalwinebistro.com.

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-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Laurent Quenioux (in white jacket) serving guests at one of his weed dinners. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times. 

Celebrate Rainier cherry season at Bierbeisl

BothCherryBeauty-001Don’t let this one get away: Wednesday is National Rainier Cherry Day, marking the Rainier cherry’s short six-week season in the Pacific Northwest. That’s the beautiful yellow cherry blushed with red and blessed with a sweet, delicate flavor.

At Bierbeisl  in Beverly Hills, young Austrian chef/owner Bernhard Mairinger is getting in a cache of Rainier beauties from Northwest Cherries. And starting on Wednesday, he’ll be serving the coveted cherries in several ways: vanilla-infused goat cheese with homemade Rainier cherry compote, toasted pistachios, green peppercorns and frisée salad, or house-made vanilla ice cream with marinated Rainier cherries. This last one sounds really terrific--cherry-chocolate strudel with house-made pistachio ice cream. I'm there. What about you?

Bierbeisl, 9669 Little Santa Monica Blvd. (between Bedford and Roxbury), Beverly Hills; (310) 271-7274; www.bierbeisl-la.com.

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-- S. Irene Virbila
Twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photos: Rainier cherries. Credit: Northwest Cherries.

 

Joseph Mahon turns up in Fullerton to open Early Bird

MahonEver wondered what happened to Joseph Mahon? He is the onetime chef at the celebrated Bastide restaurant in West Hollywood, the guy who took it California casual (and earned good reviews while doing it). He's popped back up again, this time in his old stomping grounds of Orange County.

Mahon's been running a semi-permanent burger pop-up Wednesday through Saturday nights at the Rialto restaurant in Fullerton (his burger was a big seller at Bastide). And now Mahon, who has also worked with Daniel Boulud and David Myers, is opening a breakfast and lunch spot appropriately called Early Bird in Fullerton.

The place is scheduled to open July 16 with Jonathan Moulton as chef de cuisine. Moulton has worked with Rafael Lunetta and Josiah Citrin at Lemon Moon in Santa Monica and with James Boyce at Studio at the Montage in Laguna Beach.

The menu is sketchy at this point, but, according to press materials, will include dishes such as brioche French toast with almonds, toad-in-the-hole with grilled asparagus and smoked salmon, and a morning pizza with puff pastry, tomato compote and eggs for breakfast. Lunch items include coconut-curry soup, fried chicken salad, grilled cheese and penne arrabiata.

Early Bird,1000 B E. Bastanchury Road, Fullerton.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Mahon at Bastide. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

MAD2 food symposium in Copenhagen: some highlights

Mad2The second annual MAD food symposium spearheaded by Noma chef Rene Redzepi took place this week under a blue and yellow circus tent pitched on a hay-strewn meadow at the edge of Copenhagen. An audience of international food devotees lucky enough to score tickets descended on the Danish capital to hear speakers address the role of the chef in a world whose food system is increasingly complicated.

MAD is a tantalizing mix of high-minded intentions and the best chefs in the world (with occasional moments of the sanctimonious, bizarre or poorly translated) in a Nordic setting free of the telltales of commercial sponsorship (i.e., demos equipped by All-Clad). There was smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) for lunch and Coffee Collective coffee to help the jet-lagged, or the hungover (one assumes that’s also what prompted David Chang to board the morning shuttle boat with a tallboy of Carlsberg and Johnny Iuzzini to pass around a bottle of bourbon before entering the tent).

This year’s theme for MAD (which means “food” in Danish) was “appetite,” and speakers included food suppliers, academics and chefs such as Dan Barber, Chang, Leif Sorenson and Ferran Adria. (You know it’s MAD2 when you spot Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Ludovic Lefebvre, Wylie Dufresne and Bertrand Grebaut on the same night at Christian Puglisi’s Relae restaurant in Norrebro.)

The conference accommodated 550 people, up from 300 last year, says Noma director Peter Kreiner. Redzepi announced next year’s MAD conference will be curated by Chang and the producers of his quarterly magazine Lucky Peach, to be held Aug. 25 to 26, 2013, with the theme of “guts.”  

Among the 20 talks at MAD2, more than a handful especially stood out. Some quick-and-dirty highlights follow:

Continue reading »

MB Post chef David LeFevre turns 40, plans guest-chef dinner

DavidLeFevre
MB Post chef David LeFevre turns the big 4-0 today and to celebrate he's planning a very exciting edition of his "Can You Dig It?" guest chef and featured farmers series.

On July 16, he'll welcome Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Son of a Gun); Matt Molina (Mozza); Steve Samson and Zach Pollack (Sotto); and Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry), who will create a five-course menu featuring fresh produce from Coastal Farms, Windrose Farms and Harry's Berries.

Why? Because 40 goes great with green.

On the menu:

Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo: Gem lettuce, pickled beets, bread crumbs, green garlic crème fraîche.
 
MB Post: Hamachi grilled over white oak with summer tomatoes and bitter green pesto.
 
Matt Molina: Orecchiette with sausage and swiss chard.
 
Steve Samson & Zach Pollack: Veal cheek alla vaccinara, bitter chocolate agrodolce, semolina gnocco.
 
Zoe Nathan: Fresh corn cake with sweet rose creamery corn ice cream and strawberry rhubarb compote. Cookies served with spiked milk.

The cost is $80, or $115 with wine pairing (tax and gratuity not included). Reservations are available for two seatings, 5:45, 6 and 6:15 p.m.; or 8, 8:15 and 8:30 p.m.

Manhattan Beach Post, 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-5405; www.eatmbpost.com.

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Photo: Chef David LeFevre inside his restaurant MB Post. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times.

5 Questions for Ilan Hall

Ilan hallIlan Hall is chef-owner of the Gorbals, everybody's favorite Scottish-Jewish-ish downtown restaurant, known for its GLT (gribenes, lettuce and tomato sandwich), bacon-wrapped fried matzo balls and lots of off cuts: half roasted pig's head, confit tongue, "popcorn gizzards." The "Top Chef" winner's next project is a wine bar on Sunset Boulevard called Gorge, set to open this summer. 

What’s coming up next on your menu? Radishes with whipped brown butter and bonito; grilled apricots with Mangalitsa lardo and almonds; acorn-fed Berkshire pork belly with spot-prawn broth and pea tips; Manila mangoes with smoked bone marrow, Maldon salt and chile threads. 

Latest ingredient obsession? Datu puti. It's a Filipino cane vinegar that's steeped with aromatics. It can be very spicy. Perfect to mask the reality of eating balut.

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? Western Soondae. The soondae, which is Korean blood sausage bound by rice noodles, is so rich and snappy. It reminds me of the morcilla at La Isla, a 24-hour cuchifritos restaurant I used to frequent in Alphabet City.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? Sharpie marker.

Favorite kitchen soundtrack? Action Bronson's "Blue Chips."

The Gorbals, 501 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 488-3408, www.thegorbalsla.com.

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Photo: Ilan Hall, chef-owner of the Gorbals. Credit: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images 

5 Questions for Judy Han

Judy HanJudy Han is executive chef of Mendocino Farms, the chain of sandwich shops that just opened its fifth location at Fairfax and 3rd Street in Los Angeles. Owners Mario Del Pero and Ellen Shen plan to expand into Orange County and the Valley next year, then go national. Meanwhile, chef Han's the mastermind behind some of L.A.'s favorite sandwiches. The summer Cubano, for example: slow braised carnitas, honey ham, Mendocino mustard, house-made dill pickles, Cuban mojo sauce and crispy plantains on Dolce Forno’s soft roll.  

What’s coming up next on your menu? Definitely something with heirloom tomatoes for summer. It’s almost that time of season, and Scarborough Farm’s heirloom tomatoes are amazing and should be eaten as much as possible when they are at their peak.

Latest ingredient obsession? At home, it’s Red Boat fish sauce –- it’s really stinky, like an aged blue cheese, but I love it with eggs, added to soups, or with rice. At Mendocino Farms it’s our candied jalapenos. They are such an incredible condiment that pairs well with so many things. I love how sweet and spicy they are.

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra for low-key, family friendly dining. I can’t stay away from their soup dumplings, marinated pig ear appetizer or beef rolls. The Spice Table in downtown because it reminds me of my amazing trip to Singapore and [chef] Bryant Ng always keeps it interesting, creative and homey.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? Microplane.  It’s great for cheeses, citrus zest and lemongrass.

What’s the last non-food book you read? "Bossypants" by Tina Fey.

Mendocino Farms, multiple locations in Los Angeles and Marina del Rey, www.mendocinofarms.com. 

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Photo credit: Mendocino Farms

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.