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A Few Good Eggs

Eric Klein Executive Chef, Maple Drive

Describes himself as: “A farm boy” from Alsace, France (Hattstatt, specifically), where he grew up in the shadow of a nunnery. “The nuns there used to baby-sit me,” he says, gesturing with enormous, rugged hands. “I’d help the nuns pluck chickens, I made bread, cooked soup, picked vegetables, milked cows . . . whatever needed to be done. I was so thankful for all they taught me, I almost became a priest.”

Cooking style: “Earthy Cal-French.”

Mentors/role models: “Everyone I worked with had an influence on me — from the dishwashers to the potato peelers. But I also have an old-school mentality and greatly respect those who paved the way for me: Andre Soltner, Emil Jung, Bernard Loiseau, Paul Bocuse.”

Favorite vegetable: “Bacon. I think of bacon as a vegetable.”

Secret ingredient (not surprisingly): “Bacon fat.”

Favorite stand at the Santa Monica Farmers Market: “The berry and stone-fruit stands. I just love to eat the berries. I’m a farmer, originally.”

Robert Gadsby Executive Chef/Owner, Noé

Cooking style: “Progressive American or Franco-Japanese.”

Signature dish: “Ginger-butternut squash with almond cloud and hazelnut veil.”

Weirdest kitchen prop: “A shower. I was working in Hong Kong, and in the middle of the kitchen there was this shower. Because you lived there.”

Thoughts on NBC’s The Restaurant: “Rocco’s a friend. I don’t know why he would do that! Whatever he was smoking, he shouldn’t give it to anyone else. That was not cool.”

Mentors/role models: “Thomas Keller [French Laundry, Per Se] and Gray Kunz [Café Gray]. Just understanding their philosophy of food and how it affects people.”

Pivotal moment: “1998. I’d been working for 30 years already and had Gadsby’s in L.A. Then I had lunch at Gray’s place in New York [which was Lespinasse] for a tasting, and it changed everything — changed how I perceived food.”

What’s next: “Houston, Noé. It opens fall 2004.”

Monique King Co-Chef/Co-Owner, Firefly Bistro

Started cooking: “In 1989 at City Restaurant in L.A. I just walked in through the back door and asked for a job. I had a ‰ degree in art and thought I was going to be a graphic designer. But after working for a few months, I didn’t love it. Cooking became my commercial art — it’s my creative outlet.”

Most important kitchen she worked in before opening her own: “Soul Kitchen in Chicago.”

Signature dishes: “Portuguese chicken; pan-fried, pecan-coated catfish; and Tijuana toast.”

Essential, can’t-live-without condiments in fridge at home: “Mustard, Tabasco sauce.”

Favorite kitchen gadget: “Japanese rotary slicer. Great for turning vegetables into no-carb noodles.”

Martha Stewart: “. . . is innocent. But who cares about her?”

David and Michelle Myers Co-Chefs/Co-Owners, Sona

Cooking style: “Modern French with global influences,” says David. Then Michelle adds, “Rethinking the conventional and always showcasing our farmers’ amazing produce.”

Favorite farmers-market stands: Michelle: “The Chino Ranch stand in Rancho Santa Fe.” David: “Coleman Farms at the Santa Monica market. They have a great array of greens like rocket, which is heirloom arugula, and purslane, which is essentially a weed.”

When Michelle started cooking: “As a young girl [in New York], with my mother and grandmother.”

David’s defining moment: “I was studying international business at Ohio State, but found that I enjoyed cooking more than exams. I’d cook every night in my apartment for friends; I was spending all my time in the kitchen. I dropped out and went to work at Spagio in the city.”

Sona’s signature dish: “Our signature dish is that we don’t do signature dishes,” says David. “We have 18 new dishes every week — we don’t repeat.”

What’s next? “We’re opening a modern version of a traditional Paris pastry shop, called Boule, across the street from Sona,” says Michelle. “It’s set to open the end of September.”

If you could be a personal chef for anyone, who would it be? David: “My wife.” Michelle: “Viggo Mortensen — my husband’s going to kill me for saying that!”

Juan Carlos Leon Executive Chef, Señor Fred

From: “Puerto Vallarta and [from the age of 13] Sherman Oaks.”

Style of cooking: “Authentic Mexican food with a fancy presentation.”

Mentor/role model: “Joël Robuchon. I learned through his books. I wish I could meet him.”

When did you start cooking? “1988, when I was 14 years old. I’d go to restaurants and just watch. Then a Japanese noodle house in Sherman Oaks let me cook in the kitchen. After a while, I spoke better Japanese than English!”

Favorite vegetable: Potato.

Essential, can’t-live-without condiment in fridge at home: “A special habanero salsa. I made it for myself, and now everyone asks for it.”

Secret ingredient: “Hard-to-find Mexican herbs, like epazote and hoja santa, which I get from Rita Lopez at the Santa Monica Farmers Market (the only place I can find it). Not many chefs use them.”

Favorite kitchen tool: “My knives. Especially my German 12-inch chef’s knife.”

If you could be a personal chef for anyone, who would it be? “Julia Roberts — I think everyone wants to cook for her!”

What’s next? “Surprise people every time with my food — show them something they’ve never seen before.”

Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts Co-Chefs/Co-Owners, Amuse Café

What is Amuse known for? “Right now, the hamburger,” says Brooke. “It’s become a destination spot for a great hamburger.”

Nick’s cooking inspiration: “Watching my grandmother [in Los Angeles].”

How Brooke started cooking: “Professionally at the Argyle Hotel, just out of high school. But I knew I was going to be a chef from the time I was 6. I loved creating things that made people happy, and I found that food was one of the things that genuinely made people happy. I’d pick mulberries off the trees in my back yard and make pancakes for breakfast.”

Favorite vegetables: Brooke, spring garlic; Nick, mushrooms.

Nick’s secret ingredient: “Can’t tell you.”

Weirdest thing Brooke has ever eaten: “Lamb balls and lamb’s feet. I was at a bed-and-breakfast in the South of France — it was the most revolting thing I’ve ever eaten. My first bite was a mouthful of fur.”

What Brooke would do with a watermelon: “Make either sorbet, salad or some kind of beverage — a watermelon margarita.”

What’s next? (This is the one question they wholeheartedly agree upon.) “Who knows!”

Ludovic Lefebvre Recently named Executive Chef, Bastide

Grew up: In Burgundy, France.

Style of cooking: “French technique with flavors from around the world, particularly Asia.”

Signature dish: “They’re all different. But, maybe, cappuccino of black truffle with ratte potato purée and aroma of cocoa.”

Has his eye on: “China. China is the future for all chefs. That’s the country to watch.”

Mentor/role model: “Pierre Gagnaire in Paris.”

Strangest thing he’s ever eaten: “I drank snake blood in Singapore and, after, ate the meat off the snake.”

Weirdest night on the job: “At L’Arpege in Paris with Alain Passard. There was a blackout, very romantic. But no electricity, no ventilation, just gas, and we had to cook by candlelight. It was so hot, like a sauna. Afterward, my jacket was like water.”

What’s next? “The new Bastide. I’m bringing new energy, new blood — a whole new menu and new concept. It’ll start the end of August. Then, find some new, unusual ingredients around the world and be creative.”

Govind Armstrong Chef/Co-Owner, Table 8

From: “Born in L.A., raised in Costa Rica, returned to L.A. at age 9.”

What he thinks about being featured in People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” issue: “It was flattering. Embarrassing to this day, but kind of funny. They made me wear that pink shirt!”

Cooking style: “Simple, fresh, California seasonal and market-driven.”

How he was “discovered”: “My mom used to entertain a lot, and I sort of took over the kitchen at age 11, doing all the hors d’oeuvres. My mom’s friend’s daughter was training to be the lead waitress at the original Spago in L.A., and at one party — I was 12 then — she asked my mom who the caterer was. My mom said, ‘It’s Govind.’ She came into the kitchen — it was a disaster — and just started laughing: I was wearing the whole getup, chef’s hat, apron, etc. She introduced me to Wolfgang, and I showed him recipes I’d written, pictures I’d taken, and he offered me an apprenticeship.”

Most important kitchen he worked in before opening his own: “Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain.”

Secret ingredient: “Corn nuts. You grind ’em up to the right size and people have no idea what they’re eating.”

Best way to get a last-minute reservation at Table 8 on a Saturday night: “It’s impossible. The phone rings all night. I feel really bad, but we only have 80 seats and we fill up. We’re booked solid every night of the week. And weekends, during prime time, we fill up three weeks in advance.”

What’s next? “Table 8 South Beach. It’s opening in April on Ocean Drive.”


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