6/07/2012 03:04:00 PM

LA Chef Casey Lane on the Process of Perfection, Food TV and More

LA chef Casey Lane is undeniably one of the hottest young chefs in the country right now (as evidenced by his inclusion in our LA 30 Under 30) who is currently in the process of expanding his ingredient-driven, perfection-oriented LA restaurant empire. Three years in, his current eatery, Tasting Kitchen, located on Venice's famed Abbot Kinney Blvd., is still one of the most sought-after tables in town. And now Lane is getting ready to open not one, but two new eateries - The Parish (a downtown gastropub) and Itri (a WeHo Italian rotisserie) - this summer in LA. We caught up with Casey to get the lowdown on both new ventures as well as his thoughts on food TV, his ongoing quest for culinary perfection and more. Check it out below.

Zagat: So what's the update on The Parish - it was supposed to maybe open this month, but are we looking at a July opening now?

Casey Lane: "Yeah, it's gonna be like July 15th - we've just submitted to worst case scenario at this point as far as permitting goes. Every person that comes in and signs off on a permit gives you 5-10 days, and we figured you know what, why do we think it's going to happen sooner than the 10-day every single time?"

Z: Will the menu alter daily at The Parish like at TK?
CL: "The menu will definitely alter daily according to just kind of the philosophy that we work with at all of the restaurants in terms of working ripe and making sure the produce that we use is ready to be used. If something needs a few more days, or a week to have the flavor that it should have, especially when you're talking about things like apples, pears, stone fruit - we're going to give it its time, take it off the menu and bring it back when it's going to taste the way it should."

Z: And what about Itri - when is that opening?
C: "Late August - that's what we're shooting for. As far as the construction everything on that, it's going really well. It's going really fast as opposed to Parish which was like, every problem that we could have had, we've had. Itri is moving along really quickly but I'll need just the time to get Parish up and running and get it stable before we decide to try and go attack the next one."

Z: Can you tell us about the menu at Itri?
CL: "It's going to be a pasta program and Italian rotisserie. You know which, with the whole country deciding pizza is the way to go - there were actually pizza ovens in the space and you know I love making pizza, but at the same time I didn't want to just follow the trends that everyone else is. Pizza, pizza, pasta, pizza and salad, etc.

I wanted to do something that would kind of define the concept from apart from everything else that's out there, with the focus on wood-fired Italian rotisserie items. We'll do rotisserie chickens, we'll do porchetta we're going to do the rotisserie octopus that everyone's talking about. And we'll just base the rest of the menu around that rotisserie and wood-fire grill, and we're going to do like two or three chopped Italian salads.

There's not the ornate well-thought-out flavors so to speak that we deal with at the Tasting Kitchen. It's going to be far more simple really, really enjoyable...this is about dinner time, this is about your friends, this is about a meal. This is not about my overly ornate artistic expression."

Z: Have you guys modified the Angeli Caffe space drastically? 
CL : "We're doing everything that is legal to do. The inside is going to be very very different than what it was before, in terms of interior. A lot of what they had in there were not structural things it was all design elements, so a lot of what we're essentially doing a new interior design without structurally moving the building around."

Z: Was it always the plan to expand so quickly and with two places at once or were both just good opportunities?
CL: "Definitely a little bit of both. The master plan so to speak was to kind of develop that way. It comes from the philosophy in the way that I hire, and the way that we work together and the way that I develop people here at Tasting Kitchen. I'm not hiring culinary kids that are barely gonna learn their ropes before they go somewhere else to learn. I hire really good cooks.

All these people have been sous chefs at other places in town. For Parish, we have one of the old sous chefs from Street, we have the old sous chef from Bar Marmont we have the sous chef that used to work at Patina Group. I have another guy that was a sous chef at a place I love in Portland, one from Eugene, OR, one from San Francisco. We give them a good offer not only financially but also programatically with what we're looking to do and it's really hard to find that as a cook.

I know that when I was looking for jobs, you want to find a place that fits where you are now and fits where you want to go as far as growth and I'm just kind of putting together a program that not a lot of people are willing to do because one - it's a lot of work, and two  - it's either you're going to knock it out of the park or fail miserably kind of thing. So we're willing to take the chance, hire the right people and then develop them.

This development makes you feel confident about opening two places within a few months of each other. I know that these guys could go do their thing if they really wanted to - but they know that from the financial backing that I have, to just kind of the relentless, work towards perfection that I'm going to make them maintain, that it's gonna be great because we're not going to stop until it's great. 

Z: Do you have further expansion plans - other cities perhaps?
CL: "Yeah I mean definitely, first things first I want to do restaurant two and three I want to be really really good and I'm setting aside anything else in terms of offers that could be coming out from random things not just restaurants. I need to reaffirm that as its expanding that my brand is still cemented in a quality that people can expect. After we get these two knocked off to where the Tasting Kitchen is - it's consistent, it's fast it's on a path for progress, then I'll feel comfortable. But we do have another space in mind that we've been working on for about a year and a half at this point.  We haven't begun construction on the space yet, but concept-wise it's going to be a restaurant called Belle Peche right next to Tasting Kitchen actually, all kind of Southeastern French seafood restaurant - all seafood and vegetables, no meats - so kind of an alter ego to kind of the meat-heavy, pork-curing, pasta program at the Tasting Kitchen."

Z: Some might say that your style of taking no shortcuts, so to speak -  changing the menu every day, using whole animals, etc.  is very difficult to do. Is it easier or more difficult for you to operate that way?
CL: "It is easier to make great food and once again I'm letting the product kind of dictate the changes. I'm  letting it tell me what I'm going to do the next day instead of sitting there deciding I'm going to do some kind of 'agar agar apricot pasta' and I'm trying to like force the issue, you know? It's more like today we have this kind of pork, what's the texture and flavor profile going to be on that, how do we want to cook that, what vegetables did we pick up from market, what's really ready to use, what can wait a few days, what needs to wait a couple of weeks. Then we kind of pair that together and then we think about flavor profiles and texture and are they going to match and we kind of choreograph the dish based on what, for a lack of a dumber way to put it, we let the food speak to us."

Z: How much time do you have to actually go out, one night a week?
CL: I have a couple of nights, I burn the candle at both ends, but I want to make sure I have a little bit of balance, mostly it's just so that I don't operate in a vacuum. I think there's too many people that they stay at their own restaurant and they literally begin operating in a pure vacuum of themselves - of what they've accomplished and they're not looking at the broader spectrum of what's going on in the world and keeping an objective bar and saying 'this is where these people set the bar.' You know Mark Ladner set the bar really high at Del Posto - those guys are crushing it. They're doing food at the top of its game, service at the top of its game. I like to go get a reality check and think about what else is going on out there and find ways to constantly improve.

Z: How are you feeling about the upcoming foie gras ban in Cali?
CL: "Yeah I mean it will definitely affect the menus. I'm for sure pretty pro-foie as an item. I do think that things need to be done to maybe standardize the way that it's raised but at the end of the day, it will happen naturally in nature. If we need to meet on a middle ground of how these people are going to make that happen and what we still feel comfortable with being humane, then I think that's fantastic and that's the goal. And I think everyone wants to get to that for foie gras. The ban is a bummer, it's taking away kind of a piece of fine dining heritage."

Z: How and when did you decide that you wanted to be a chef?
CL: "Emotionally I think I decided when I was like nine years old. I started cooking with my grandfather and being kind of mystified by what he was doing and why he was doing it and how we were going to make something taste so good at the end of the day. I really got involved at the why and how, I was definitely that annoying little kid that always asked: 'why, why, why?'

Professionally, it was an honor to get here when I kind of fell in love with just the day-to-day kind of micromanaging of perfection - that's the thing I enjoy the most. Every single day I'm looking for ways to get better, trying to find ways where we're missing, where we're doing great and filling those holes.

Z: What are your thoughts on food TV? Would you ever do a show like Top Chef Masters?
CL: Food TV is fine. At the end of the day I would do something like Top Chef Masters but I would never do one of the random cooking shows. I think food TV is good and can be really really good depending on where the networks are willing to take the audience. I can think of a lot of shows that could be really fun and informative and not just play into, you know, the middle American housewife, but showcase stuff that other people would actually be interested in. I think there's some really cool shows and some really stupid ones obviously.

Z: Any cookbook plans?
CL: At some point, sure, I think that there's a lot of thought that would have to go into it like who am I writing it for, what do I want out of doing it, and also how to do something differently. Cooking by Hand is my favorite cookbook of all time, Paul Bertolli was a great writer the way that it was put tougher, the actual end result of how it came out is very inspirational and educational. So it would be a long thought process for me. I think it will eventually happen I just have to get egotistical enough to want to write things down. 

1 comment :

  1. So talented and handsome! Anyone know if he is taken??