Micah Wexler worked his way around town at restaurants such as Melisse, Patina and Craft before coming to Mezze, where he is executive chef. The Cornell University grad incorporates flavors from Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Turkey with locally sourced ingredients to create a contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine at the West Hollywood restaurant that opened in late March.
Latest ingredient obsession? Cucumber. We always think of cucumber as being this really pedestrian ingredient that is a must-have to bulk up a boring salad. Like any other vegetable, when you dig a little deeper you find all of these heirloom varietals. Right now in my kitchen I have lemon cucumbers, serpent cucumber, white cucumber, Japanese cucumber; there's a whole cucumber world. I've also been experimenting with different ways of cooking cucumber since it's usually used raw. The one I'm into at the moment is throwing them whole into my wood burning oven. The outside gets charred like a pepper, we peel off the burnt skin and the inside flesh is sweet and smokey and still retains some crunch.
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? Sanam Luang Café in Thai Town. They're open until 4 a.m. so it's a great late-night fix. I can't go without having the roast duck noodle soup with egg noodles. It's the most intensely ducky thing I've ever tasted.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? My spoons. I have a collection of spoons that have either been given to me or I've picked up at random stores and flea markets. Some of them are antiques from my grandmothers, others are from various places in the world I have traveled to. They all have a purpose and have to feel balanced in my hand. It's amazing how versatile a spoon can be as a tool.
What’s your favorite breakfast? Shakshouka. It's an Israeli breakfast staple by way of Tunisia that has eggs poached in a spicy pepper stew. The best one in the world is at a restaurant in Yafo, Israel, called "Doctor Shakshouka." It's so good I have my version on the menu at Mezze.
The last cookbook you read – and what inspired you to pick it up? "Kaiseki: The exquisite cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant." I've had the book for years but I pick it up now and then and it's always like I'm looking at it for the first time. There are so many interesting vegetables and fish and it is hyper-seasonal. The way everything is prepared is so simple but there is real depth in the simplicity.
Mezze, 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 657-4103, www.mezzela.com.
Photo: Micah Wexler. Credit: Mezzela.com