Chef Interviews

Q & A With Farmshop's Jeffrey Cerciello: Open For Dinner, Keller, El Bulli + Market Plans

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Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 8:30 AM
click to enlarge Jeffrey Cerciello at Farmshop - A. SCATTERGOOD
  • A. Scattergood
  • Jeffrey Cerciello at Farmshop

When Jeffrey Cerciello came to Los Angeles to open Farmshop in the Brentwood Country Mart, in the space formerly occupied by Maury Rubin's short-lived City Bakery, it was a homecoming of sorts. Cerciello, who was culinary director of Thomas Keller's casual dining division and worked for Keller for well over a decade, was born in Torrance and grew up in Laguna, and his grandmother once owned a shop not too far from where Cerciello's restaurant is now. Farmshop took a little longer to open than he'd imagined, with breakfast and lunch coming last November and dinner finally reaching the tables last week. As anyone who's opened a restaurant (or written about them opening) will know, the experience can be maddeningly slow. But good things come to those who wait, even, eventually, to those who wait for city expediters.

We recently caught up with Cerciello, who was looking disconcertingly happy. His beer and wine license had been approved. Dinner was being served. Fried chicken was on the menu. And his market was finally moving forward -- expect it to open in time for Thanksgiving. Yes, really. Turn the page, and check back later for a recipe.

click to enlarge interior of Farmshop - A. SCATTERGOOD
  • A. Scattergood
  • interior of Farmshop

Squid Ink: You're finally open for dinner. Congratulations.

Jeffrey Cerciello: Thank you. It took awhile. We opened in November 16th of last year for breakfast and the bakery and lunch and brunch followed. So yeah, quite some time.

SI: Why did it take so long?

JC: Well, how to start. The delays were because you get all these different groups who want to have a say. And a lot of them are legitimate concerns: they're mindful of their neighborhood. They want to be sure that someone's not coming in here to open a saloon. But one of the things that we did when we first started this process -- back in April of 2000 -- was to go door to door and introduce ourselves, Jim Rosenfield and myself. We said, This is who we are, this is what I want to do. This is a project called Farmshop. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Artisan market. And some people said, Fantastic, brilliant. And others said, Absolutely not.

SI: This space was empty for awhile, after City Bakery closed.

JC: It was closed for a year and a half, maybe two years. It was essentially the anchor. In one form or another, there was food service here: delis, a butcher shop. There was a place called Farmhouse here at one time. So it was a big deal. But people were concerned about noise, and when they found out that we were going to get a beer and wine license that was essentially the problem. Beer and wine brings evening traffic.

SI: But, as you point out, you're hardly a saloon.

JC: Right. But they didn't know. I had a track record with Thomas [Keller] and in the north and in other cities, but they didn't know me. It took about seven, eight months. They didn't want the trucks, the semis, the 18-wheelers. And you have to put yourself in their shoes. You become like a politician.

SI: Trader Joe's was trying to go in here, right?

JC: Right. There were all these conditions, and Trader Joe's backed out. And that was great, a blessing. So what we said was, Trader Joe's is high volume, low price points, a ton of traffic; people are going to be parking on your streets and in your driveways. This? Low volume, higher price tag. And that was Jim's philosophy of how to save the market. So he had this vision and the what we wanted to do fit, so it was just about getting their blessing. And meetings after meetings, going to city council...

SI: You could probably run for office now.

JC: It's amazing, right? But we worked with them and we struck a deal with our neighbors. So we did it; we all came to an understanding and we've implemented a lot of conditions that a lot of other restaurateurs wouldn't have. I had plenty of people say, Why would you give so much away? Because we want to respect our neighbors.

SI: Well, you're a neighborhood restaurant. The last thing you want to do is piss off your neighbors.

JC: Exactly. I've been doing this for 25 years, I know it works, I've been in these conditions before. When I was in Napa Valley, we had a hotel right behind the restaurant. I mean, I know what negative noise impact means. We have solutions to all these things. But it took a lot of time to build trust. Now a lot of those neighbors come in here for breakfast. They just had see it. I don't blame them. They're worried about precedent. So we're on the fast track now. We're doing dinners; we're doing fried chicken.

SI: Speaking of fried chicken, many people seem to think that your fried chicken is the same as the one from Ad Hoc. The transitive principle of restaurant dishes, maybe. Is it?

JC: When we opened Ad Hoc, we used the same brined chicken recipe that I developed for our roasted chicken at Bouchon. I'm happy to hear that after 5 years, the fried chicken being served at Ad Hoc is still so beloved. When we decided to introduce fried chicken here at Farmshop, the first thing we did was go back to the Ad Hoc brine and seasoning profile -- and make changes to the original recipe in order to create a Farmshop fried chicken that is uniquely ours. We played with the brine for a really long time, adding new seasonings and adjusting the salt-to-sugar ratio. We also altered the ingredients in the seasoned flour, and we now use more than one seasoned flour to coat our chicken. The one component that stayed the same in both recipes was the fresh fried herbs that adorn the platter.

SI: Cool. So what about the market component of the restaurant?

JC: The beer and wine program -- and retail -- was a big component, and if we didn't get the license I think there would have been a restructuring of the concept. But we got it. We've had the plans done for 9 months. We're shooting for the November, for Thanksgiving.

SI: You have a bakery, but you're not going to be making your own salumi too...

JC: Correct. We bake all the cookies, muffins, scones, Vienoisserie, everything but hearth breads, which we get from Tavern [Suzanne Goin's nearby restaurant]. That's been a great relationship to have, especially since they're right down the street. Everything else; this is where we want to be really careful about doing everything in-house. Because, as I've said before, the message and the charm wears off. We want to showcase artisans. There's great product, there's amazing stories to be told. One thing we do in-house is our pastrami. Josh Drew has been working on that for 10 months now. But that's it. I don't want to be making salumi. We just don't have the facility to do it. This kitchen is 750 square feet, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we have the bakery on the other side.

SI: And what's your priority anyway? Maybe the bakery.

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