“The reason I love what I do, is that there is always a challenge.”
Q: How did your career start?
A: Honestly, I’ve been cooking since I was about 14 or 15, I started as a dishwasher and then you know they let me burn toast and flip eggs at a mom and pop place that I worked. My mom was like, ‘do you want a car?’ and I was like ‘yeah’ and she was like ‘cool then why don’t you get a job.’ So I worked at the mom and pop place back in Pennsylvania. […] That was my beginning and from there I just gravitated to it so I worked in a lot of restaurants and then moved up to some high end restaurants and wedding venues.
I took a break, I went to college and got a degree, started doing that and then I decided I wanted to be doing cooking full time and make my passion my actual career. I went to the culinary school, the Culinary Institute of America, and then from there I moved around a little bit, I lived in the Virgin Islands. I worked at a place called Caneel Bay Resort which unfortunately […] got hit with a hurricane and they didn’t rebuild it. […] Then I moved to California, I found the chef who had just put out a cookbook, Chef Craig Von Foesrster. I looked through and this is the kind of food I want to make so I very informally emailed him […] and I was like ‘hey man I’d really like to work with you.’ He was like ‘I have someone who’s leaving if you can be here in two weeks, I’ll hire you.’ So I packed up my car and moved across the country to California and I’ve been here ever since. [..] I worked for him for about 5 years and then my wife got a job offer in Los Angeles, then we moved out here and [Craig’s] was the only job I applied to in Los Angeles. Actually I met Craig [Owner of Craig’s restaurant] through a friend of mine that I grew up with who was already working here. […] I came here 12 years ago and it’s the only place I’ve worked in L.A.
Q: So you had just moved to L.A. and started working at a restaurant with celebrity clients?
A: I had never been in L.A. at all, I had never even visited L.A. before I moved here. It was a little bit crazy, Post Ranch Inn [former restaurant] we did get a lot of celebrity clientele because it was far enough outside the city that it was a getaway.
Q: Is your vegan ice cream you offer at Craig’s a passion project?
A: The reason I love what I do, is that there is always a challenge. Whether that is a piece of equipment broken that you have to figure out how to work without it, creating a new dish. There’s always something that you can learn something new or teach somebody else something new. I love being in this position [Executive Chef] because I get to do both. […]
The vegan ice cream was- veganism as a whole was growing, we made a vegan section on our menu and we had some appetizers and entrees but we didn’t really have any deserts. Then we made a vegan chocolate mousse so then we needed more. For whatever reason, people kept asking for ice cream and Craig was like ‘can you make a vegan ice cream?’ and I was like ‘I have no idea’ so then it became a project. […] First we started with a tabletop machine that could make 2 quarts at a time and then we built a whole ice cream room. […] Everything was in house at the time and I got to be in back like a mad scientist combining ingredients. […] We really branched out to much larger than we can do here [grocery stores, Fat Sals]. It was born out of necessity but also it was a project that I could really dive into and do something new and exciting.
Q: How would you describe Craig’s?
A: Everything that we do here is fresh, we make everything everyday. A lot of times people are like how can you do that in a place that does 200 – 400 covers a night? It is a lot and it takes a lot of staff so like I have a full staff that comes in at 6am just to start making everything and then there’s another staff that comes in at 3pm to produce the dishes. […]
Everyone that comes in wants it to feel like home. When Craig [Owner of Craig’s] sat me down, he took me out to coffee and offered me the executive chef job and he was like ‘do you want this job?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know. What do you want your restaurant to be?’ What he wanted was for this to feel like home, [he] wanted you to come in, be comfortable, see people you know and meet knew people. [He] wanted food that was pushing the envelope but you could understand. Like chicken parm because everyone knows what that is but it’s going to be the best you can get. […] It can almost be what you want it to be. If you want to sit at a table and have an intimate dining experience or you can sit up here [at the bar] where you can have a full dinner, watch the game and hangout with people at the bar so it’s really inclusive of everyone. […] We just want people to feel good when they come in. […] That’s why we have the vegan menu too, you can have a vegan item and the person next to you can have a ribeye.
Q: Are you working on any new menu items?
A: Yeah, we’re always working on somehting. We try to change the menu quarterly, seasonally, as much as California has seasons. The trick here is that we’ve been around almost 13 years now so there’s certain staple items that we can’t take off the menu like people would go crazy but there’s alot within the menu that we can change the setup for. For instance, the scallops were not taking them off the menu but we’re going to change the setup that it comes with so that’s a very seasonal one. So like steaks, in the summer we’ll do more of a grilled summery style steak setup with them. I kind of have a spot in the steak section of the menu, a revolving one so right now the winter one we’re doing a braised short rib but in the summer that’s too heavy so I’ll take the short rib off and put on a 16oz bone-in New York. […]
Everything is in a rotation with the staples and then even the staples we’ll work on behind the scenes. I would never take the chicken parm off but we do work on how do we take what we’re doing and just make it a little bit better. People don’t know but the meatball recipe I’ve changed about 6 times but it’s not enough that people are like you have something knew but more how do we dial it up. People have actually said to Craig ‘I don’t know what you changed but it’s just a bit better.’ That’s a great compliment. […]
Q: How long have you been with Premier Meat Company?
A: Since we started . I met Anthony [Premier Meat Company Sales Rep] when I first started and we’ve been working together ever since. He actually came in and I think Craig new Anthony but he came in and brought some samples and we’ve been working together ever since.
Q: Do you have any culinary tips?
A: I’d say the two biggest mistakes that anyone at home makes is being afraid of having an actual hot pan, especially if you’re cooking meat. Just lower than smoking and the oil should actually shimmer in the pan when you’re looking at it. That will keep your protein from sticking to the pan. The other one is don’t mess with everything too much. Everyone pokes their protein and prods it and flips it over and flips it over. Just let it hangout.
Q: What is your favorite dish to make?
A: I think that changes. For me it changes seasonally because I grew up in Pennsylvania where we had wild fluctuation in seasons, I still have that built in me. In the winter I gravitate towards pastas and soups, things that are homey, and in the summer I usually like to do lighter baked items like pies and tarts. Now that I live in L.A. I have a lemon tree, so anything that I can do with meyer lemons. […]
I don’t have a one thing that I like to cook but I like to change things up. I do love pizza dough, pastas just because you get a zen moment. Your arms are working but your mind is wandering. It’s a great feeling, kneading the dough and seeing what starts out as just eggs and flour turn into this velvety dough ball that you can turn into whatever you want. […] We eat super simply at home and that’s what [my family] loves so that’s what we do. It’s kind of funny because neither my wife or kids are super foodies. I made them soufflés at home one time and they were like ‘yeah it’s alright.’ Harsh critics for real. I really do think simple preparation with great products, you don’t need anything fancy. If I have a great filet with compound butter on top then that’s great.