The Art of the Chef Is Sometimes… The Art of the Switch
Whether or not they’ll admit it, everyone wants to be inspired. We need change. We like it, we fight it and, sometimes, we just can’t accept it. But we need it as sure as we need a new pair of shoes or a kiss on the cheek.
As with all artists, the thirst to impress oneself is the mark of a true perfectionist and final chef d’oeuvre. For others, the hunger to impress the audience is the standard of greatness and the real magnum opus.
But let’s face it—whether you ultimately want to validate your prowess among game, fowl, or fish, the kitchen is a social place.
That’s exactly why chefs Josiah Citrin, David LeFevre, Christophe Eme, Michael Cimarusti and Angelo Auriana decided to team up to produce a series of five dinners, appropriately called 5 x 5. Between April 25th and August 26th, 2007, all five chefs are jointly sharing the duties in preparing five meals at participating Los Angeles restaurants Mélisse, Ortolan, Water Grill,Valentino and Providence. Each dinner features a six-course meal at $130.00 per person, with $20 from each dinner benefiting Citrin’s favorite charitable cause, Cure Autism Now.
At each location, be it Water Grill’s warm, downtown high-rise or Mélisse’s crisp, sophisticated Santa Monica bôite, the dream team of Los Angeles chefs is coming together to whip up fare that is every bit a group effort—perhaps no easy task for chefs used to their own processes.
And, just as each chef possesses a unique flair in the kitchen, communi- cating through the subtleties of fresh herbs and the finest cuts of meat, each also responds differently to the challenge 5 x 5 presents.
For Mélisse’s Josiah Citrin, swapping establishments will have minimal effect on his culinary offerings for the evenings. “It won’t,” he quickly replies when asked if 5 x 5 would affect his style. However, he is clear that the evening will provide guests the chance for a good time while at the same time raising money for charity.
As honest in his diction as he is with his approach to cuisine, Water Grill’s David LeFevre asserts, “The great thing about these events is we will see another way of doing things. Hopefully we will learn from each other, or see a product that is new to us.”
As he elaborates, LeFevre acknowledges that, although sometimes life may dictate otherwise, no chef is an island unto himself. “There are hurdles in this area in terms of geography that limit the interaction that we have with each other,” he admits.“We have met six times since February at each others’ restaurants—that time alone has strengthened our friendships and allowed time to bounce ideas and concepts off each other.”
Providence’s Michael Cimarusti explains a similar view regarding the growth the dinners have fostered.“Any time you get to rub elbows with other chefs you learn something—either presentation or technique,” he says.
So what does he hope to gain from the experience?
“A greater relationship with the other chefs that are involved,” he explains. “Most of the guys involved you see around from time to time, you pass them in the Farmers Market—that sort of thing—so I’m looking forward to the camaraderie and spending more time to talk to my peers and exchange information.”
Valentino’s Angelo Auriana sees that camaraderie already beginning to form.“Working with the other chefs is fun, different and challenging. We—the chefs—have established a level of friendship, respect and understanding of the five of us as a team,” he declares of his involvement with the dinners.
And Cimarusti sees plusses in the good mood surrounding the events.“I think we’ll all benefit from each other’s style and there’s always something to learn. Being in this arrangement, you’re forced to be in the presence of other chefs so it’s impossible not to learn,” he says.
On the other hand, Ortolan’s Christophe Eme communicates that, in addition to camaraderie, the 5 x 5 dinners also create something the other chefs are a bit more hesitant to express—competition.
“It will just make us all want even more to do our best. It’s great to see the different styles of food and talk to the other chefs,” Eme reveals, adding, “I think for all of us, working together just raises everyone’s game.”
Whether his style seems to compliment heavy roasted meats or seafood, each chef has his own personal favorites that he is excited to share with guests.
Citrin, known for his take on American fine dining with French influences, cites good olive oils, salts, and the best, freshest products among his favorites, while LeFevre, appropriately enough, loves seafood.
“I love preparing it (seafood) in a manner that truly highlights its own naturally given characteristics,” LeFevre details. “I would have to say for me there is no better example of this than with oysters and Japanese fish served raw. They both evoke a hedonistic side of humans that has long passed. If you think of how both of these items came to be eaten— oysters and raw fish—it’s very primal. Some caveman probably saw an otter eating rocks (oysters) and decided to give it a go. Oysters have been harvested for over 20,000 years! Raw fish was probably more so due to lack of fire, but we are still eating it that way today even with the invention of new and different cooking techniques. Either way, when I’m eating both, I feel very primal.”
Primal, sophisticated, evolved and unique—these are all adjectives useful in describing the array of talent coming together for a culinary series of stellar proportion.
Because sometimes, whether they admit or not, every chef needs a healthy change of scenery.
Image: Michael Cimarusti’s Lobster Bloody Mary. Photo by Jennifer Cheung Photography