Fred Eric is not your typical chef-slash-restaurateur, if in fact there is a specific type (Twitter account, frozen food line, reality television appearance, child named Petal Blossom Rainbow) that encapsulates the contemporary model. The longtime Los Angeles chef is more like a performance artist who has chosen the commercial kitchen as his stage. His restaurants open and close like installations, some of them permanent, some a bit quixotic and far too brief. Eric has worked with Joachim Splichal and Octavio Becerra, but these days he works for himself, at his two current restaurants, Fred 62 in Los Feliz and downtown's Tiara Cafe, Eric's most recent restaurant.
Eric recently sat down and talked about what he's been up to, his plans for future projects, the joy of fasting, and, of course, David Bowie. Turn the page for the first part of our interview and check back later for the rest of it, as well as Eric's recipe for chorizo and roasted poblano pizza.
Squid Ink: How many restaurants do you currently have?
Fred Eric: I just have this one and Fred 62. I'm really trying to keep it minimal. Because you know, there's things that come up. And I have a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, and I like to spend my evenings with them. I figure that by the time they're 11, they're probably won't want to. And I figure there's a better chance that they'll want to spend time with me then if I actually spend time with them now. My feeling is that they get to be 11 and I do want to spend time with them, they'll be like, Well, we don't really know you that well. So I try to do a lot with them now.
SI: Do they cook?
FE: Yeah. They make pizzas here. Isis, the 5-year-old, is already like, Dad, why do I have to go to school; why can't I just come cook with you at work. I taught them how to make matzo ball soup. And then they taught my grandfather, who's 97, how to make it. And he video-recorded it. They make spaghetti and meatballs. They can make pancakes by themselves. They do cupcakes. They're funny. Again, the 5-year-old for some reason really likes it.
SI: It's better than mud pies.
FE: She's really focused. She likes to have a task. I've found that if I make dinner with them they'll actually eat it. And we have a garden in the back yard, big raised beds, and we have chicken coops.
SI: So only two restaurants now, but how many have you had over the years?
FE: Vida, Olive, Liberty Grill, Airstream Diner… That was great. It was tragic that it didn't work out. Only because it was such a punchline on Beverly Hills. The fact that there was like this trailer parked in Beverly Hills, it was such a good joke in itself. If nothing else, as an installation piece. You know, like a Jeff Koons installation piece. It was great. When I went to do this I had a meeting with David LaChapelle the photographer, and I was trying to talk him into doing a series of photos where you would look out the window and have Beverly Hills turn into a trailer park. You know, Dolly Parton showing Pam Anderson how to do a beehive. And he was like, It's too conceptual. I like things more random. Can't we just put some of my old photographs… Because I had these big windows that looked like light boxes. He didn't go for it.
SI: So for a little historical perspective, what was your first restaurant?
FE: The first restaurant was Olive. Then I did Vida. Then I did Fred 62. Then I did Airstream. Then I did this, and then I did Liberty Grill. Too many chefs, it didn't work out. So I kind of went from dinner house to breakfast-lunch-and-dinner, and then I got a licensing deal with Airstream and went to Ohio and the idea was to do this great Americana-revamped diner. But unfortunately I ended up with the wrong partners: I should have spent more time just focusing on food.
SI: [Food arrives.] You're not eating?
FE: No, I don't eat. I'm not eating right now for two weeks; I'm doing a fasting cleanse. I seem to suffer from that thing, what do you call it: the need to reinvent the wheel. I somehow always feel like I have to reinvent the wheel.
SI: Well, you seem to suffer from that, if you can call it suffering, relative to restaurants as well as menus. Do you get bored easily?
FE: No, I just come up with new things that I like. And instead of going, Oh, I'm going to do what I've done and I know this, I think I'm going to do something that would make sense now. Like right now I really want to open a — this is going to sound crazy — I want to open a broth place. Because I like doing these cleansing broths. I make a really rich vegetarian broth. So like in between Jamba Juice and Starbucks. You go there, you get a nice bowl of just broth. And it's rich and there'd be a bunch of different flavors. You go and drink it just like a drink.
SI: Like consommé? That's very 18th century.
FE: Well, that's the funny thing. I'm glad you have that reference. The restoration restaurant.
SI: You could probably do a deal with Restoration Hardware. Put them in right next door.
FE: It's funny, when I opened this I did consommés. So I like the idea. And then I also like the idea of doing waters. Purified water with maybe a bit of flavor in it, and then you'd have a juicer and instead of getting a thick glass of carrot juice, you'd do like bee-carrot-fennel and it would be an espresso cup and you'd pour it on top and at the table you'd get like layering and foam and you can just drink it. Get something that's light. That's what I'd like to order. Cucumber-vanilla bean water. And then I'd get a cucumber-beet-ginger froth on top.
It would be more like winemaking. You harvest the vegetables at the right time, cook them up; they freeze really well. Anyway, but it's one of those things that's way too.. Like when I opened here and people looked at the menu and went, What the hell? Where's the salad? What is this? Because I tried to do it all like: food products, technique, and then what it was. Wild arugula la la la. Anyway, I wish I could do it.
Check back later today for the second part of this interview.