Google “chefs are the new rock stars,” and you’ll find there’s a whole movement of people who think this could be true. Okay, sure. MTV died with Kurt Cobain, and now most of America’s young adults are more likely to be watching Gordon Ramsay than they are to be reading this sentence. As the airtime, headlines, and dollar-signs have it, people who make dinner are more popular than people who play guitar.
If I were a computer twerking the data, I’d arrive at the same conclusion. But I feel like today’s “rock star chefs” couldn’t possibly trigger the kind of emotional response that say, Jim Morrison once did. Like, nobody’s going to cry and scream watching David Chang turn on a blender. On the other hand, there’s got to be somebody out there with a David Chang recipe tattooed on their leg. Or even better, a David Chang face.
Anyway that’s all speculation. What really validates this rock-star-chef phenomenon is that it’s no longer just the TV personalities who matter. In the restaurant world, chefs have recaptured the spotlight and built an eager live audience that’s ready to follow them from popup to food truck and back.
Go to a hip new eatery, and you can see into the kitchen. It’s a stage! Take a look at the menu, and you’ll immediately find the name of the chef. It’s a program! Dining out is no longer what you do before the show. It is the show. And nowhere is this more true than at the new Arts District eatery Fifty Seven.
“This used the be the old Heinz Loading Dock,” your server will say in his opening shpiel. “That’s why it’s called Fifty Seven.” And look at her now! All done-up in layers of wood and brick, accessorized with sleek iron rails and mod ceramic vessels. If only the old Heinz managers could see how beautifully their warehouse bay seats twenty on a long leather banquette.
This stunning makeover comes courtesy of Cardiff Giant, the same crew of geniuses behind the rotating nightclub DBA. These guys have figured out a nightlife hack: go curatorial, and you’ll never get old. Accordingly, Fifty Seven is more dining venue than dining concept. It’s a space built to showcase the most compelling chefs from around the country, with a new one arriving every season with a new menu. And while some say LA is the “dark horse” of the culinary scene, we expect Fifty Seven will always have first draft pick. Because really, who could say no to local produce?
Not Chef David Nayfeld! California’s bounty is what lured him back to his home state after ten years abroad, including racking up three Michelin Stars and six James Beard Awards at Eleven Madison Park in NYC. For his inaugural stint at Fifty Seven, Nayfeld crafted a progressive American menu, featuring deviled eggs with mushrooms tucked inside, sumptuous veal liver with an onion jam spread, and a rustic, stuffed chicken on a bed of romesco sauce.
Whatever kind of stars they are, today’s chefs have undoubtedly risen on a tidal shift in attitudes toward food. Every single day in America, somebody else watches a documentary and becomes aghast to learn the dirty details of our megafarm-to-supermarket system. They join a movement to dethrone the Wonderbread dynasty, with the chefs at the culinary vanguard leading the charge.
In LA’s downtown Arts District, this local/artisanal movement takes on an ironic significance as it burrows in the ruins of yesterday’s national distribution network. It’s really only fitting that the nexus of the dining zeitgeist would appear here, at Fifty Seven, where millions of bottles of ketchup once stopped on their way to every fridge in town.
photo JOSH TELLES