What do you do and how did you get here?
I’m a Chef and Restaurateur. With my food, I try to focus on serving thoughtful creations that employ rich flavors against sharp and fragrant notes, lending modern, elegant touches to rustic ideas. About a year and a half ago, Jud Mongell, my partner in Five Leaves, and I were approached by Ace Hotels to discuss working on their new project in DTLA. And so the L.A. Chapter was born. Five Leaves and Ace are philosophically on the same page when it comes to hospitality. Also, for me, coming from a boutique hotel background, it was a bit of a homecoming to be back in this environment.
WAS HOSPITALITY SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO? WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
I’ve been cooking pretty steadily since I was 16, though I do recall considering becoming a fireman or a hairstylist… which looks quite odd now that I’ve typed it out.
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY OVER THE PAST FIVE TO TEN YEARS?
The most obvious change has been the media aspect; it’s wild that chefs get so much attention these days. The kudos are fun, but the over exposure sometimes feels like it removes a bit of the magic from the process. I worry that it also makes young chefs impatient and more focused on social media profiles than the actual cooking. Being able to make a pretty plate is not the same thing as being a great chef. After a couple of decades in the trade, I’m still striving to master the craft.
WHO OR WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATION IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY?
It has been very inspiring to be around during what feels like a culinary renaissance in LA. Chefs out here are excited about where LA is going as a food town, therefore everyone from the team at Alma across the street, to Jason Neroni at Superba Snack Bar, to Carolynn Spence at Chateau, and Amelia at Lindy & Grundy Butchers have been extremely welcoming. The buzz in the air also shows on the plate. The access to great ingredients has always been amazing, but chefs are now proving they can be more technique driven without compromising the integrity of the product.
IF YOU HAD THE DAY OFF TODAY, WHERE WOULD YOU BE?
With my wife Sam, biking to Dimes in Chinatown for breakfast; then to MoMA or the Met, depending on what was on; followed by a long walk in the park; then back downtown for a glass of Champagne at Buvette, before having dinner at Il Buco.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
I’m partial to the Carlyle, but that’s mostly because of my affection for Bemelmans.
YOU JUST WON BEST NEW HOTEL RESTAURANT AT THE ANNUAL A HOTEL LIFE AWARDS, UP AGAINST SOME PRETTY STIFF COMPETITION. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?
I’m totally blown away! It’s a real honor, and such good company to be in. I’m super proud of the work we’ve started in LA; myself, Micah, and the rest of my team are really pushing hard to maintain a high level. And it’s only the beginning…
DO YOU HAVE A CAREER ANECDOTE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
I was about fifteen or sixteen and interning at Rakel, Thomas Keller’s last NYC restaurant before heading West. On my first day, having never set foot in a professional kitchen before, I was handed a case of very dirty spinach and told to clean it. To me at the time, cleaning was meant with hot water. Needless to say the murky sink full of wilted greens was not well received. I'm amazed I was not thrown out on my ass on the spot.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MINI BAR ITEM?
In the past it’s been whisky, but I’m a little more likely to grab a coconut water these days.
IF YOU COULD COOK FOR ANYONE DEAD OR ALIVE WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I wish I could cook for and enjoy a meal with my mother one more time.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING IN 10 YEARS FROM NOW?
I enjoy working with different teams in different venues, so I’m working to expand on that while continuing to learn and grow as a chef, as well as make more time for friends and family. Not a simple act in this gig, but that’s the plan.