What do you like best about what you do?
I love the energy of a restaurant. I love designing and creating the restaurants with people I meet along the way. In this business, it’s very much — if you’re good, you will succeed. There is no hiding behind anything; there are no excuses. You have to find the best location, the best chefs, the best decor, and the best GMs. That’s what excites me — creating something from the ground up, watching it grow and connecting with the customers on a daily basis.
Describe a day in the life of a restaurateur?
In what I do, there is no shortcut, no short day. I work 6.5 days a week, and I begin work every day at 8am. I attend manager meetings, financial meetings and do most of the heavy lifting during the day. I spend lunch, and at least five dinners a week, at one of my restaurants to make sure the service is great, the offering is great, the consistency of the food is there. I try to go to two or three of my restaurants every day because there are always things to improve, people to meet, customers to approach.
What is your biggest inspiration?
It’s the instant gratification — when someone tells you that was the best steak I’ve ever had, the best dish I’ve ever had, I’m so in love with this cocktail, the wine list is fantastic, or the waitress was amazing. In this business, it’s about enjoying the instant gratification of your customers. When you go home at the end of the night and look at how your restaurants fared that day, it’s a very rewarding feeling.
It’s been said that L.A. is in the midst of a food revolution. How has the culinary scene in L.A. evolved and attracted new talent?
I know a lot of people say it’s a food revolution, but I think it’s a momentum or a movement that began with Test Kitchen in 2010. When we created the concept, we found there was a demand for something different. It’s a revolution in the sense that it came from the people. The people wanted to eat better food; they were tired of only having access to chains. The restaurants we created are simple and very chef-driven. Also, cuisine itself is very strong in L.A. I’m lucky enough to travel all over America and experience the culinary scenes of San Francisco, New York, Portland and Nashville. In the last ten years, L.A. has not just caught up, it has surpassed them to become one of the biggest, if not the biggest, food city in America. We have some of the best produce, talented young chefs, and a melting pot of cultures and culinary inspiration.
How does the audience differ from other cities in the country?
It’s very simple to explain — it’s the lifestyle. Take a day like today. It’s beautiful, it’s 80 degrees, everyone wants to be out meeting friends, dining out, gathering on the patio. Last night, the patio at Terrine was packed. That’s the main difference with L.A. It’s warm and sunny, most of the ingredients and produce are right here. Our job as restaurateurs is to put it all together in a way that attracts people. People here are adventurous; they come from different cities and countries, they are well traveled, they have the money to enjoy dining out. The lifestyle is laid back; it’s what California and L.A. are all about.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in L.A.?
I love Night + Market. I’m in love with Cassia. To me, it is the best restaurant in Los Angeles right now. I love the French Bistro, Petit Trois. It’s fun, creative; it’s the quintessential French cuisine in L.A. The beauty of this city is that on Monday, you can eat the best tacos; Tuesday, the best French food; Wednesday, the best Thai food; Thursday, the best Italian. The diversity of the cuisine is beautiful.
What food trends do you see on the horizon?
I really don’t believe in food trends. What I believe in is a good restaurant. If you look at Night + Market — Thai food has never been a trend. You have a guy who studied in France and at amazing restaurants around the world. He decided to open this simple, casual restaurant and it’s so good, so well done, so modern in his approach to Thai cuisine that people fell in love. I don’t think it’s a trend. People will always come for good food. As long as you have a chef who is dedicated to his craft, who puts together good food, the food will conquer. When I created Peruvian cuisine in America, no one was eating Peruvian food, everyone told me I was nuts. I believed the food at Picca was good enough. People may not be interested in Peruvian cuisine, but they are interested in good food. I mean, look at Kale — everyone said that was the food trend of 2015. Kale is not a trend. You don’t achieve success in a restaurant because you added a kale salad.
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
I’m opening a new Hanjip Korean BBQ restaurant, a second location in Downtown Los Angeles. That’s the plan for now. I’m always careful — growing too fast is the enemy.