Hillary Eaton

Originally appeared on Refinery29

The Surprising Fashion Trend Taking Over The L.A. Food Scene

Over the past few years, Los Angeles has become a more exciting and important food city than ever before, from high quality local meats and produce to the multifaceted population of ethnic communities that make some of L.A.’s most delicious food. But, the latest trend is like nothing we’ve ever seen — and strangely reminiscent of our favorite fashion trend.

Let us explain. Besides a city-wide obsession with uni and a growing food court madness, there’s one trend that’s catching on with L.A.’s best spots: they’re coming in pairs. Some of our favorite restos are now opening up faster and more affordable counterparts to their acclaimed (and more expensive) spots, creating mini restaurant empires that provide every style of dining experience you could possibly want want.

Just like the high-low trend in fashion (a $500 Mansur Gavriel bag never looks better than when it’s paired with a $59 H&M dress), similar restaurant concepts have popped up all over our fair city. Chef Ludo Lefebvre has a casual French bistro named Petit Trois right next door to his ticketed Trois Mec. Connie and Ted’s casual seafood is the chill counterpart to Michael Cimarusti’s two Michelin starred Providence. And, most recently, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s newly opened Jon & Vinny’s casual red sauce Italian joint is in the same ‘hood as their more experimental and very elegant Animal.

So, What’s The Deal?
“As a chef, you always want to come up with new and different concepts,” Lefebvre tells us, taking a break from his busy evening prep schedule.“Trois Mec is very unique and special. I wanted to provide a different kind of dining experience altogether to set them apart, not compete.” For him, opening up a French bistro was always a dream: “When the space right next to Trois Mec opened up, I knew it was meant to be.”

According to Lefebvre, accessibility wasn’t the only reason he had for opening up a faster, more affordable counterpart to Trois Mec. Instead, Petit Trois was a happy byproduct. Adding that while the close proximity (read: they share a wall) wasn’t his sole intention behind the restaurant, it is a defining concept of the bistro. “I have always dreamed of a little tiny French bistro in Los Angeles and, really, it was the space that dictated the concept,” he says.

Come One, Come All
“A great restaurant owner once told me, ‘Your restaurant is always a testament of where you’re at in your life.’ And, right now, we’re both in the stage of our lives where we’re parents who have young kids and wanted to create an environment for them to grow up in,” Jon Shook tells us of his newly opened, casual American-Italian spot with partner Vinny Dotolo, Jon & Vinny’s. “And, what better food than pizza and pasta, you know what I mean?”

Wanting to tap into something that’s comforting and reminiscent of the childhood experiences with food that first sparked their interest in cooking is definitely part of what’s driving this trend. Take Michael Cimarusti: With two Michelin stars under his belt for fine dining seafood restaurant Providence, he surprised everyone and opened Connie and Ted’s, the low-key New England style seafood restaurant modeled after east coast crab shacks. Naming the restaurant after his grandparents, who fostered a love and respect for fishing and family, Connie and Ted’s acts as a culinary homage to a much simpler time. Translation: It’s insanely delicious and the average diner is in jeans.

Foodie On A Budget
But, the most exciting part about this trend is that we now have the ability to experience the talent of these amazing chefs without breaking the bank.

Lefebvre describes the contrasting styles of spots as a complete version of his style of cooking:“The complementary aspect is like the ying to its yang — very different, but together make up the whole. At Trois Mec, you never know what you will find, our menu is constantly changing and I am always trying new things, learning new techniques, and finding new combinations,” he says. “At Petit Trois, the menu is much more simple and straightforward, like comfort food should be. Together, you get the full range of my cooking.”


Of course, opening up restaurants in high and low pairs isn’t exactly revolutionary. Shook reflects, “More chefs are doing casual projects…but it wasn’t necessarily public knowledge. I remember when I was in culinary school, back in Florida, there were guys that were great chefs doing taco places and hamburger joints.” So, if it’s not exactly new, why is this model trending and proving so successful for L.A.’s restaurant scene?

A lot of it comes down to cost, care, and mindset. “I think a lot of the reason why chefs are into opening up places that are a bit more casual is because of cost operations,” Shook says, pointing out that much of the cost of a fine dining restaurant goes towards things like service, glassware, tables, design, and other non-food related things. Essentially, a more casual place frees up money for high quality ingredients.“In fine dining, you’re essentially paying for the service and not necessarily the ingredients,” says Shook, “But, in all of our restaurants we buy the nicest stuff you can buy, bar none. Even the canned tomatoes that we’re using for the pizza, we’re buying the highest quality tomatoes you can buy. Picked in California, canned in California. As good, as if not better, than some of the ones fine dining restaurants are using.”


The Next Wave
Ready your appetite, because thankfully, this trend isn’t going anywhere. “I think the trend will continue for a long time,” Lefebvre says, “Chefs want to reach a broad spectrum of guests. And, they want different dining opportunities, whether it be from a food style standpoint or a different price point. I believe chefs will continue to push the restaurant styles and concepts they create. It’s exciting.”

It is exciting, and with Cimarusti’s forthcoming Cape Seafood and Provisions slated to open this summer, Mark Peel’s new Bombo stall (brand spanking new fish market stand) at Grand Central Market, Helen’s wine shop attached to Jon & Vinny’s, and Belcampo’s new restaurant to match their burgeoning Santa Monica butcher shop, it’s safe to say the trend is on the up and up.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

I Lied My Way Into the Upper Echelons of the Restaurant Industry

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. 

I was a line cook from age 15 to 22, working for free when I was still in high school. Was I a great cook? No. But could I hack it in any kitchen? Yeah, I think I could have been a line cook anywhere.

I came to New York and I had a job all lined up: I was suppose to go work for a chef who was running a four-star New York Times, three-star Michelin restaurant—Christian Delouvrier from Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. He asked me to come help him open a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, right when it was really starting to pop; I was going to be his right-hand guy, and I was so excited. And then the restaurant never opened.

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I had moved to New York without any other job prospects, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I started looking at line cook jobs, but they were only paying minimum wage, which was about $7 per hour around then. It would barely cover my rent.

So, I had to find a waitstaff job—something I’d never done before. I called everyone I knew and lied my way through interviews for different waitstaff jobs. The first job I ended up getting was at Oceana, a three-star New York Times fine-dining restaurant in Midtown: suit and tie, big wine list—you know the kind. I managed to lie my way into a job as a back waiter there—a waiter’s assistant. 

And I was just not good at it—at all. I didn’t know how to move in a dining room, didn’t know how to carry a tray, didn’t know how to put down wine glasses, didn’t know how to set a table. I didn’t know how to crumb a table, how to speak eloquently about wine—all those little things that you need to know as a fine-dining waiter. I was just absolutely terrible.

The front-of-house manager quickly came to realize that I was faking it and demoted me. I started out as a back waiter—which is basically the number two in the dining room—and then they had me do bus boy stuff.  Well, I didn’t really do that very well either, so then I got demoted to running food. And I didn’t do that very well either, so then I got demoted again to polishing glasses. From back waiter to glass polisher, all in the span of two or three weeks. Frankly, they were being very generous. They just didn’t give up on me—I don’t know why.

One night, I was bringing up this big oval tray with probably 30 or 40 glasses on it. I was behind someone, so I said, “Behind!” But I didn’t say it loud enough, so the guy popped up and I dropped all the glasses. And these were nice glasses: They probably cost $15-20 each, so you’re looking at $700-1,000 in broken glasses. The manager just went, “Yeah, this isn’t working out.” And I was like, “I understand.” So, I got let go.

After that, I was fired from a bunch of front-of-house positions. It’s like not being able to play baseball and starting in the major leagues. I got let go from my first seven jobs because I just lied my way in. Like, “Oh, you’ve worked at that restaurant?” And they’d just take it like that—I’m convincing. What did I say? Anything to get a job.

I picked things up along the way. After a while, I went from switching jobs every week to every month, and now I’m at three or four years per spot. Growing pains. I ended up as a manager for a Danny Meyer restaurant, and I learned all about hospitality and his philosophies about taking care of the employee so they can take care of the guest. I worked there for two years before I went to help open a small restaurant that ended up not being very successful. After that, I worked as a floor manager at a Mario Batali restaurant. (I always wanted to work at one of his joints because he’s got great restaurants and is a great operator.) Then a friend of mine recommended me for a Japanese joint—we doubled the revenue between years four and seven—and now I’m the general manager at a thriving LA spot.

My job is to find and fix problems all the time—and there’s always problems. They might be big or small: two guys getting in a fight at a bar; someone’s drunk and doesn’t want to pay their bill; an employee showed up drunk; something’s over- or undercooked. Everyone always thinks it’s just a business and you’ve got to make money and that’s all we’re concerned about. But my primary concern when someone comes my restaurant is that they enjoy themselves and have such a great time that they’re going to tell all their friends and they have no choice but to come back.

I’d say anything I could to get a job, so when I’m interviewing people here I know they’re thinking the same thing. And I understand it! So, I try and ask them questions about how they would handle certain situations. What’s your knowledge base? You say you have good wine knowledge? I would not describe my wine knowledge as “good,” but I bet it’s better than your “good.” You can tell kind of quickly when you’re talking to someone if they have it or not.

The best waiters never started out as waiters. I believe in promoting people from one position to another, because something as simple as carrying a tray of glasses is very valuable. How do you carry a glass? Is it clean? How many can you carry with two hands? That’s where we start—polishing glassware and silverware.

Thomas Keller talks about how his mom use to clean bathrooms. You’ll see him at the French Laundry, sweeping the floor. He owns the restaurant and is one of the most important chefs in America, but he still cleans.

Same thing here. I want our staff to have that attention to detail. A lot of people who come in here are a little bit younger, and they start at the bottom. After doing that for a while, you realize, I know how to carry a tray and I know how to polish glassware and I know what’s clean and not clean. And then you get to become a back waiter, and you have to learn to set up a table. And then you become a food runner and you learn what the food is—and then you become a waiter.

The best waiters in my restaurant all started out as back waiters—all of them. They aren’t going to disrespect their back waiters because they use to be one of them.