In the first part of our interview with Ari Rosenson, Chef de Cuisine at Cut, we learned about his career trajectory from high school student to Wolfgang Puck's kitchens. In part 2, read about Rosenson's take on the state of steakhouses, where he likes to eat on his day off, what Hollywood agents may or may not like, and how he celebrates a couple of important holidays with his mom, who encouraged him to make that intimidating cold call to Wolfgang Puck over 20 years ago.
Squid Ink: Was doing a steakhouse something you were psyched to do?
Ari Rosenson: Yeah. But I don't think I knew exactly what I was getting into when they said we're going to open a steakhouse. I kept my mind blank, because I didn't want to think we were opening a traditional steakhouse. We were doing OUR version. The philosophy is we can do the sautéed spinach, or the creamed spinach, but it's the best that there is. It's good to have the theme, the general direction, but to know we're creating that culture and moving it forward, as opposed to kind of fitting into that niche.
SI: How do you think other steakhouses have done since you guys raised the bar for the nouveau steakhouse?
AR: Some have come and gone. And there are some that have definitely upped their game a little bit. The ones that have stayed are doing a great job. You can look at it as competition, but it's definitely a community. Everyone is vying for the same clientele, but I think they're doing a great job. I like going to eat at other steakhouses around town to check out what they're doing, and just to enjoy a great meal, too. It's nice not to be behind the stove, and have someone else cook for you.
SI: Is there a lot of competition for actual product?
AR: There is, but luckily I've worked in the industry since I was a kid. Building relationships is a very important part of getting product. I went to the farmers' market with my girlfriend, and she called me Mr. Rogers because everyone was like, “hey chef!” The farmers will save you this, and say “I have these berries, you should have them for your restaurants.” Same thing goes with our meat purveyors. You build a relationship with your farmers and your ranchers and your distributors — you get better choice.
SI: How much room do you have to experiment here?
AR: A lot of room. I'll create something, or Lee [Hefter] will have an idea. I'll try and bring it to the plate, jump it off Lee, jump it off Wolfgang. We all kind of decide it's something we like to eat, then we'll be proud to put it on our menu.
SI: But is it something a William Morris agent will want to eat?
AR: You never know. There's the I-want-a-pile-of-arugula-on-a-plate clientele, or there's the people who like the esoteric bone marrow. They all come here for something, whether we do a nice simple garden salad or a fava bean salad that an agent will love. We also have the veal tongue and pork head terrine.
SI: Do you have a unique perspective on L.A. restaurant culture since you've seen it from a certain perspective?
AR: I've seen it evolve and grow.
SI: But not so much from the standpoint of a chef who jumps from place to place every six months.
AR: It goes for any industry, but I don't like that about this industry. A chef will jump in, there will be a lot of press, and a lot of expectation and then it doesn't pan out. The press and PR only goes so far. When it comes down to it, if you're talented and you back it all up, then you have staying power. There are a lot of great chefs out there who have that, like Matt Molina at Mozza, or Quinn, who's also gone through the whole Wolfgang Puck world.
SI: How did growing up in L.A. influence your world view about cooking?
AR: There's so many places to go. All the little holes in the wall are the best places to eat. As a teen I'd just go to Thai Town and go to wherever was open late, and order whatever I could pronounce.
SI: What other restaurants do you like in L.A. when you do have free time to eat out?
AR: It's a broad spectrum. I can go to a taco truck and be happy. The Galley in Santa Monica is one of my guilty pleasures. Mozza, the Osteria, I really think they do a great job. The Hungry Cat always makes the top 5. It's a good hang out. Nothing better. Great drinks. Cold beer. Oysters, clams.
SI: What do you specifically have to look forward to?
SI: What are you going to do for your mom for this Mother's Day?
AR: I think we're going to light up the grill and grill some chicken, keep it simple and nice.
SI: So there's no sort of tradition after she helped you get started?
AR: Not for Mother's Day. The big holiday for us is Thanksgiving. I buy all my vegetables from the farmers' market, and bring them over. I wake up at 5:00 in the morning and I bust out a big meal. My mom stresses out, though. She's just now thinking that I know how to cook. It used to turn into fight; she'd always look over my shoulder to see what I was going and tell me yes or no. Now she's released the kitchen to me. Although she's concerned because I'm used to a professional kitchen so I'll be stacking pots on the stove. I end up ruining her kitchen.
SI: Well, I'm sure your family gets a great meal out of it.
AR: Very true.