Who’s in the Kitchen? Two Diverse Restaurateurs….
Last week I participated in yet another school auction. This time I was invited to my husband’s high school alma mater, Oakwood School in North Hollywood, California to participate on a panel called “Who’s in the Kitchen?” I shared the talk with Mark Peel, a current parent and parent of alumna at the school. Mark is owner and ext. chef at Campanile and Tar Pit. The moderator was Dave Badger, a faculty member who once worked ‘the line’ at several tony LA restaurants.
It was a lively evening with a very attentive audience made up of current Oakwood parents who not only eat at both Mark and my restaurants but also cook at home. I always feel hopeful for the future when I am surround by people who still cook at home! Ah, don’t get me going on this topic; instead I’ll file home cooking for a future blog.
Here’s an outline from that evenings conversation. Dave had some pre-posed questions from the audience and other questions came up organically as the talk progressed. There was no recording from the Q and A, instead, here is my recollection how the conversation flowed.
In my 20’s, I got into cooking by taking ownership of my health and changing my lifestyle by studying macrobiotics. I worked many summers at the Kushi Institute summer camps. Just like Mark I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I am self-taught. I don’t view myself as a chef but as a very good cook. I never worked in the restaurant kitchens, instead I spent my time in the front of the house. I perfected my cooking skills running a home delivery service cooking 5 days a week for 5 years. This was the precursor to developing my restaurant, RFD.
When I relocated to Los Angeles from New York City, I thought LA would be the Mecca for natural foods restaurants. To my disappointment, when I arrived in the late 80’s there were only three restaurants serving vegan, vegetarian or macrobiotic foods. Unfortunately, within my first year, two of the three places closed. That’s when I started cooking professionally. I was a working actress at the time, taking my home cooked macrobiotic meals with me to sets. I started preparing extra for the other actors and just like that, Real Food Daily as a home cooking delivery service was born. In 1993, I opened my first restaurant in Santa Monica.
As for RFD, I wanted to create an environment that was antithetic to what people thought veg. restaurants were like. RFD would be modern, timeless, an open kitchen with an educated and friendly service staff. No hippy vibe, no hanging plants, no Birkenstocks.
Mark said, “ like an army.” I agreed, as the hierarchy in a kitchen is one where people have the opportunity to start at the bottom and work their way up to the top. In fact, we both agreed that working in restaurants was the best way to become a culinary professional.
Mark said he looks for people with personality. People with a strong work ethic. I added that I look for people who understand that the restaurant business is not just about the food. It is about serving people with love and care. I look for people who exude this trait and who are willing to be present and really do the job, which in the end is giving loving and caring service.
I took this one right out the gate and stated what I have be saying for the past 2 to 3 years. Gluten-free is the biggest fastest growing segment of the food industry, doesn’t matter what kind of cuisine you serve. Not only has this affected me personally, but I also listen to my customers and they keep asking for more gluten-free options.