Cover Story: The Blaze Pizza chef opens his state-of-the-art Bagel + Slice shop next month.
Ozone sterilization, regenerative rye, countertops that are living organisms and lots of ooey, gooey cheese – these concepts might sound scary, but for Blaze Pizza chef and food scientist Brad Kent, they are the ingredients of the future at his soon to open Bagel + Slice in Highland Park.
The owner of Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria and partner in the Blaze Pizza chain, Kent graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed with Joachim Splichal at Patina. After graduating with a food science degree at Cal State Long Beach, there was just one place to go for Kent – the United States Department of Defense in Massachusetts, where he served as the first-ever research chef focusing on all-natural product development for field rations for the U.S. military.
“I reached out to them because I found out that they were the ones responsible for basically everything cool that we knew about in food and food technology,” Kent tells L.A. Weekly in the food lab that is his enchanting Eagle Rock kitchen. “Food technology can be as simple as the food bag your potato chips come in – that came from the department of defense. Chopped and formed meat – the McNugget – that’s a U.S. Department of Defense invention.”
“The position I created for myself was as a chef to make foods taste good, because if a soldier has food that’s safe to eat but doesn’t taste good, he’s not going to eat it. At that point, I already had a patent for a dog treat. They said if anyone understands animal nutrition and human nutrition, they understand what it means to feed a captive audience – and there’s no more captive of an audience than pets and soldiers. I worked there with the brightest minds in the food industry. Those are food technologists. Back then, the DOD was working 20 years out – so it would be out now.”
Food science dates back to about 1941, when M&Ms were created exclusively for U.S. service members deployed overseas during World War II. In addition to his patented invention of a needle-bed dehydrator, Kent also served on sensory panels during his tenure at the DOD, taste testing 20-year rations among other things.
“I was on the panel for the NASA space program sensory panel, eating irradiated food,” he says. “We eat radiated foods every day that we aren’t aware of like spices, but not to the level that stuff for space is. The stuff for NASA had to be completely sterilized to an almost a lethal dose, and it would change the food and the color. Green peppers would turn red, the chicken would turn pink, milk would pick up a really horrible flavor. On these panels, I would have to say what I detected. We had a lexicon of words – like wet dog, which means here’s what causes wet dog flavor. Usually, it was dairy, so do we decrease the dairy or protect the dairy?”
Those experiences, along with his love and chemical knowledge of wine tasting, are what led this dough boy to open his state-of-the-art Bagel + Slice restaurant.
Designed with a pandemic in mind, the entire ventilation system is ozonated. It ozonates water for the environment using UltraViolet light, which kills viruses and bacteria and disinfects the restaurant from stem to stern. More effective than bleach, it’s safe, natural and FDA approved. All of the water in the toilets, urinals, hand sinks, mop sinks, produce sinks and dish sinks is ozonated to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and environmental things that happen at the field level and create a safer environment for staff and guests.
There’s no indoor seating, just stand-up tables and a glass-front refrigerated case for all the called-in pickup orders, so you can see your personalized order for contactless pickup. Contactless pizza drawers have been customized to their pizza boxes at the to-go window.
The pizzas are made with 100 percent organic fresh milled seasonal regenerative wheat and come in cheese, pepperoni and vegan vodka and fennel sausage with charred jalapenos. The bagels and bialys come in plain, sesame, poppy, everything and rosemary sea salt alongside housemade smears including cultured vegan cream cheese, scallion horseradish, vanilla bean cultured cream cheese and red hot Nduja. Toppings include seasonal market fruits, dill cured gravlax, hardwood-smoked salmon “pastrami” style, cured tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, scallion threads, red onions, capers and Thai chiles.
Kent had originally planned on a wood-burning oven, but because of Covid thought that customers would fear the look of handling wood logs and then touching food and having ash and creosote accumulate inside the oven.
“It just looks dirty,” says the gentle genius. “As I’ve gotten into regenerative farming, and thinking more consciously of what I do and the impact it has on the environment, I’m glad I switched to electric.”
“I believe that it could be as little as 10 years from now that I see restaurants no longer being built with gas ovens in the kitchen at all,” the married father of two predicts. “I understand that there are so many advances being made in renewables that electricity in the very near future will be less expensive than gas to run. The restaurant of the future, I believe, will be an entirely electric kitchen. I think induction does a much better job than a gas stovetop. With induction, you can go from extraordinarily low to extraordinarily high instantaneously because you’re heating up the pan molecularly which is different from conductivity using gas. Gas is also warming the environment, so the efficiency is direct. When you’re heating a pan with induction, you’re heating the pan directly and with gas, you’re heating the environment so you have to cool that environment down besides letting off a ton of carbon emissions from your restaurant. Just inhaling that wood-burning smoke inside the restaurant is not healthy for employees.”
And the madness doesn’t stop there.
As part of the remodel completed in 2020, there are three outdoor cooking areas on three levels at Kent’s home, which include a mini commercial kitchen that was the original tool shed built in 1938 to match the house with the original steel casement window. Retrofitted with 208v power, three complete commercial sinks, insulation and a 20-liter commercial spiral mixer. The space also has a custom gas and wood oven designed by the chef with retractable spring-loaded doors and other features designed for recipe development for Bagel + Slice.
There’s also a two-burner stove, hot and cold running water and a 70-pound ice bin for entertaining.
The home’s indoor kitchen is outfitted with a custom Lacanche stove with French top, four gas burners and two induction burners used for family meals as well as recipe development. The oven also has an electric convection oven, gas static oven and electric warming cabinet capable of slow cooking. The kitchen also has a 50-bottle wine fridge, commercial Perlick bar fridge and a semi-commercial Perlick upright freezer and fridge and semi-commercial 50-pound ice maker.
The kitchen also has an original wood-burning fireplace that Kent intends to convert into a cooking area for suspending cast iron cauldrons over the wood fire. The oversized soapstone island can handle large events and has double-hung windows for pass-through to the soapstone al fresco counter on the patio with custom studio lighting.
“He has poured every ounce of himself into his cooking spaces and recipe development. I’m not sure he’s actually even seen the rest of the house,” jokes Bagel + Slice Creative Director Jeff Minton. “We spend a lot of time in his amazing kitchen. He’s always so inspired and bouncing with energy. He’s always testing, trying new things. He’s thinking about flavor, and the science, and sourcing the best ingredients. He will pick up a poppy seed with tweezers, then go on and on about where the poppy seeds on his regenerative wheat bagel come from.”
“I don’t really care what the rest of the house looks like,” says the scientist. “The most important thing was that the kitchen needed to function. I want to be able to cook everything. The countertops are antimicrobial, made from soapstone, a living organism. It changes over time because it’s living. It’ll get stained and it’ll get chipped and oxidized. Same with our floors, which are limestone. It’s beautiful to see the path of travel.”
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