[Editor's note: Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Be sure to also check out the archives.]
You really haven't heard Kanye West and Jay-Z's “H.A.M.” until it plays while you dig into a slab of Animal's balsamic pork ribs, delicata squash, arugula and pecans. This is probably how The Throne intended it. After all, when was the last time Jay and 'Ye ate Oscar Mayer?
Neither rapper has stepped foot inside Animal, the Fairfax carnival for carnivores, but both might find they have a lot in common with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the owner-chefs who have achieved mass appeal by making high art out of materials once considered lowly.
Pigtails and marrow bone (and Alaskan halibut and braised rabbit legs) are served as impeccably curated iPods bump deep album cuts from early OutKast to the Allman Brothers, Bad Religion to 2Pac, Johnny Cash to Jay-Z. During an era in which the cliché is equating chefs with rock stars, Shook and Dotolo may be the closest things.
“We always bonded over music, especially hip-hop and punk. We absorbed the 'I don't give a fuck' attitude,” says the 32-year-old Dotolo, thickly bearded, bespectacled and sporting a sleeve of skull tattoos on his left arm, all of which he received before he was 21. “We play our music loud, and we're going to do it our way. Either you like it or you don't. We're influenced by all types of food and music. We've never been the types to specialize in one thing.”
Like the roots of rap and punk, Animal's blueprint upturned conventional rules to rearrange things in initially bizarre but instantly appealing fashion. Former L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold praised Shook and Dotolo for turning “Boy Food into genuine cuisine.” He also branded them the “red-eyed Jay and Silent Bob of the food world,” a reputation they've partially outgrown since the spate of national attention. Anthony Bourdain paid a visit during a recent episode of The Layover. The New Yorker dropped in for a lengthy profile. Even Nas twice dined at Shook and Dotolo's newest restaurant, the seafood-geared Son of a Gun. The chefs lament being absent both times.
Over late-morning coffee, Shook and Dotolo wind through their musical history with the chill affability of the Florida surfers they once were. Shook, 30, grew up just outside Daytona Beach with Deadhead parents (his father went to Woodstock) and an older brother who was a huge record collector. He once played guitar but says he wasn't very musically inclined. His first concert was Ugly Kid Joe at 13, thanks to tickets won at the nearby MTV Spring Break beach house.
After meeting in culinary school, Shook and Dotolo moved to Los Angeles in 2002, where they soon landed a job catering out of the Henry Fonda Theater. During the middle years of the decade, they caught almost every big-ticket indie rock show: Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, The Decemberists.
The ascent of Animal and other adult responsibilities has somewhat curbed their concertgoing, but they still retain the best playlist of any five-star restaurant.
“Creating a dish is like creating an album. You might have to remake it 10 times before it comes out right for your tastes and what you feel to be right for your restaurant,” Dotolo says. “I think with food and with music, it's always about keeping an open mind. You never know what's going to hit next. There's always a song or a meal that you're going to fall in love with.”
Photo by Amy Theilig.