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Posted By - Kate Spencer On October 26, 2015

THE LOS ANGELES PROJECT: New to THE LIST, Group 3

COOKGIRL’s market tour for THE LOS ANGELES PROJECT was inspiring, delicious and made us miss living in California. Fresh produce, organic ingredients, a dedication to the healthiest food makes the Golden State a food mecca. The creative chefs who are creating the scene in LA are innovative and changing the way that everyone eats across the country, all while staying true to their histories and heritage. Bravo to Southern California as we reveal our final GROUP 3. Cook On!

1. KAREN HATFIELD

Karen Hatfield’s pastry career began not far from home at the Los Angeles Culinary Institute, where she perfected her ability to take classic combinations and translate them in unexpected ways. Upon graduation, Karen honed her pastry skills under the guidance of Sherry Yard at Spago, which is also were she met her husband. After a few years, the couple moved to New York and quickly immersed themselves in the New York restaurant scene. 

While in New York, Karen held positions at Café Boulud, Jean-Georges and Gramercy Tavern, where she worked alongside James Beard Award winner Claudia Fleming. In 2002, Karen and Quinn moved to San Francisco to open Cortez restaurant in the Union Square Hotel Adagio where Karen also managed the front of the house. Still, they longed for their own restaurant back home in L.A. and in 2006 discovered a quaint restaurant space on Beverly Boulevard - they later moved to a larger space on Melrose in 2009 - for their labor of love, Hatfield’s. Hatfield’s closed in late 2014 as the chefs announced plans for their latest project, Odys + Penelope. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Karen and Quinn Hatfield opened Sycamore Kitchen in 2012, an urban bakery and eatery. Here Karen’s seasonally focused desserts are showcased including chocolate croissants, almond-scented brioche, blueberry financiers, walnut galettes…and her killer rye chocolate chip cookies.

“We made our home in Los Angeles years ago because we love it here. This concept is a dedication to our neighborhood, to create the eatery that we crave. Any time of day, you can stop by for wholesome pastries, a delicious lunch, or simply a great cup of coffee,” Karen said when Sycamore Kitchen first opened.

In January 2015, the chefs opened Odys + Penelope just a few doors down from Sycamore Kitchen. With an open grill and wood-fired smoker, the chefs use elemental live-fire cooking methods. When asked about any residual sadness while closing Hatfield’s and opening Odys + Penelope, Karen Hatfield said: ”It’s like how to get over an old boyfriend. Get a new one.” Great advice for all of us!

Onward!

2. LAUREN HERMAN

Lauren Herman has been the chef de cuisine at Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s the a.o.c. for five years after having worked at a.o.c.’s sister restaurant, Lucques. 

As a native Angeleno, Herman is dedicated to fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu at a.o.c. is as good as it gets in LA: The Farmer’s Plate has autumn vegetables, muhammara & chickpea puree, burrito & grilled toast. Everything from the wood oven is delicious: clams with sherry, garlic & toast or a.o.c. style raclette-potato, cornichon & mustard.

When COOKGIRL hosted the kick-off to the LOS ANGELES PROJECT at the a.o.c. in early June, Lauren was at the helm and created the most delicious meal imaginable. To the delight of our guests, the buffet included Manchego & Quince paste with romesco aioli and marcona almonds; Dungeness Crab salad on cucumber; Bacon-wrapped Dates with parmesan; Tomato Confit focaccia; Spanish Fried Chicken; Grilled White Sea Bass; Cauliflower with curry & red wine vinegar and then a Dessert Platter.

Lauren and Chef Suzanne Goin were co-showcased at LA Loves Alex’s Lemonade event in September 2015, featuring the best-of-the-best Lamb Bacon BLT and Black Olive Focaccia. These are chefs who give back and care and inspire others to do the same.

3. JOSIE LE BALCH

Josie Le Balch grew up in Southern California but her upbringing was very French, especially during mealtime. Josie’s father, Gregoire Le Balch, was a celebrated chef from Brittany and started one of LA’s first cooking schools in the early ‘60s. He also had an eponymous restaurant, Chef Gregoire on Ventura in Sherman Oaks, which operated as a cozy french restaurant and part-time school. As legend has it, one day a line cook didn’t show up and Josie, then 14, filled in.

Interestingly, Gregoire Le Balch was a traditionalist. As Josie told the LA Times in 2001, her father felt that “‘Women don't belong in the [restaurant] kitchen’,” which had the effect of inspiring Josie to become a chef, ”I had to prove to Daddy that I was good at it [cooking]. Like the please your parents thing."

This was great news for everyone who has enjoyed her skills in the kitchen. She first became well-known as the executive chef at Saddle Peak Lodge before opening her Santa Monica restaurant Josie in 2001.  Both Josie and Next Door by Josie have been two of the best neighborhood restaurants in LA for years, with patrons posting on social media “They served “different and interesting” food way back when but soon became known for their organic simple delicious unpretentious fare.”

Josie closed earlier in 2015 with a note on their website that said, “It’s time for a little facelift - after 14 wonderful years, we think so! But don’t worry, stay tuned for a new and exciting experience.” As outlined in their press release earlier this year, this gives them time to refine the dining room and make a few more-than-cosmetic changes to the old place. 

In the meantime, Next Door by Josie, which opened with a casual version of Josie’s in 2011, is open and the twitter feed gives updates for everything that is planned. Next Door by Josie will also supplement the regular menu with a few key classics from the Josie menu that customers just can’t live without.

4. MARGARITA MANZKE

Husband and wife team Walter and Margarita “Marge” Manzke’s french eatery Republique opened in December 2013 in the 1920’s building that had been the home of Nancy Silverton’s famed Campanile and La Brea Bakery. The building has even more historic importance having been built in 1929 for Charlie Chaplin. The space has been restored to reflect its history and grandeur and by day, the front area is a cafe bakery featuring Marge’s artisanal breads and pastries. By night, this same space is transformed into a wine bar.

Marge Manzke was born and raised in the Philippines and she grew up in a kitchen at the White Rock Resort, a hotel and restaurant just outside Manila owned and operated by her parents. After studying pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in London, she enrolled inThe Culinary Institute of America in New York, receiving a degree in Culinary Arts.

Marge is a force as a pastry chef, but she wasn’t always in pastry. After graduation, she moved to LA and worked in several legendary restaurants including Spago and Patina, where she met her husband and business partner Walter. In 2001, she went to Mélisse and rose to sous chef. Looking for a change, the couple moved to Carmel to open several successful restaurants: Bouchée, Cantinetta Luca and l’Auberge Carmel. It was there that she became known for her bread programs, all of which was the precursor the brilliance of the bread and pastry program at Republique.

Interesting sidebar is the couple’s other venture Wildflour Cafe + Bakery, which is located in the Philippines. The couple saw an opportunity with the explosive urban growth in Manila and have opened four locations of Wildflour Cafe across Manila. Walter and Marge Manzke also opened The Farmacy soda fountain shop and are planning on exporting another made-famous-in-LA concept: Pink’s Hot Dog. 

5. REBECCA MERHEJ

Described as a phenom, Chef de Cuisine and Pastry Chef of Manhattan Beach’s Love & Salt Rebecca Merhej has had an impact at both Terranea’s mar’sel, where at age 24 she assumed the role of Chef de Cuisine when chef/mentor Michael Fiorelli was promoted to Executive Sous Chef, and also at the late chef Kerry Simon’s Simon LA.

Love & Salt opened in November 2014 an idea that we can all get behind: “To make great food, all you need is love and salt.” Rebecca Merhej and Michael Fiorelli, in partnership with father/daughter team Guy and Sylvie Gabrielle, designed an airy, elegant 100-seat restaurant that includes communal and bar seating and a kitchen serving up the soul of Italian cuisine with a distinctly SoCal personality.

After enrolling at the Kitchen Academy in LA (now Le Cordon Bleu) at age 19, Merhej earned a degree in culinary arts. Inspired by her family, she loved cooking. Merhej would help her grandmother make Lebanese cookies, soups, and stews. Her heritage is showcased in her home-cooked comfort, but she is immensely curious and constantly exploring new cuisine and flavors. In fact, Merhej puts forth a different menu nearly every day at this sunny Manhattan Beach restaurant

“I want to make desserts that make you feel good when you eat them. I want them to remind you of something your grandma or mom would make,” says Merhej. “Not Another Budino” is currently on the dessert menu: hazelnut, milk chocolate, sea salt and BROWN SUGAR (caps are necessary). Truly, love AND salt!

6. ANNIE MILER 

An alum of Spago, Campanile and La Brea Bakery, Miler focuses on the food and cooking style from her Midwestern upbringing. She opened her bakery & cafe in Century City cafe in 2000 and her sandwiches, salads, soups and fabulous baked goods make it one of the best neighborhood cafes in Century City and later in 2012, Beverly Hills. 

April is Grilled Cheese Month each year and her contribution to Grilled Cheese Mania has been noted and celebrated by everyone from The Los Angeles Times to Food & Wine.

Annie was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and learned to cook alongside her mother and grandmother. She has a degree in history from Amherst College and her honors thesis in college was “as close to food as I could get.” After college, she went to the Cordon Bleu in London to study basic pastry. She moved to Los Angeles in 1995 and worked at Spago Beverly Hills, Campanile and La Brea Bakery.

Annie Miler loves to travel and has traveled extensively throughout the United States and Europe. “I wanted to take what I learned about cooking from my mom and my grandma, combine it with my restaurant experience and offer something unique and homemade to the neighborhood,” says Miler. “The best compliment I get is when someone tells me that something we make reminds them of how their grandmas used to make it — I love that.”

Farmers’ Markets are key to the ingredient selection for Clementine and Annie shops the markets, regularly changing the menu at Clementine, which creates excitement but also has her clientele stocking up on their favorites, like Autumn Chicken Salad. As Annie Miler says, “we would rather savor a tomato at its peak than eat mediocre ones year-round.” Amen.

7. NIKI NAKAYAMA

n/naka has been described as “a passion project applying the artistic and technical notions of kaiseki to create an ever-evolving seasonal narrative within each meal.” Opened in 2011 by Los Angeles native Niki Nakayama, the restaurant has enjoyed critical acclaim. Niki was both a 2014 James Beard Foundation Award finalist and the only woman chef featured in Netfix’s episodic masterpiece “Chef’s Table”, which showcases the lives and kitchens of 6 international chefs. As Niki says in a voice-over in Netflix’s trailer for the program, “When I’m plating a dish there is a song going on in my head. I don’t know how to get rid of it.” 

Niki Nakyama is one of the only female sushi chefs in LA and one of the few in the world specializing in kaiseki, a 13th century Buddhist-inspired form of Japanese cuisine served in a series of flights of the freshest seasonal ingredients presented in their most natural states. 

Nakayama’s current menu includes 13-course tastings such as Modern Kaiseki and a Vegetarian Tasting. The vegetables are grown with care in the restaurant’s own organic garden, built and maintained by Farmscape Gardens.

Prior to opening n/naka, Niki did a tour of restaurants in Japan and then returned to LA to open her first restaurant, Azami Sushi Cafe, where her omakase menu made it a must-visit. Azami was widely considered one of the best sushi restaurants in Southern California. Her second venture, Inaka, was a gourmet Japanese take-out by day and 8-course chef’s table by night. 

n/naka was considered the best kept secret in LA when it opened in 2011 and, as a quiet, elegant experience, it was a “destination for food nerds.” No longer a secret, Chef Niki Nakayama is getting the attention she deserves. Visit soon and often, especially since the restaurant keeps track of every course it has ever served you, you will never be served the same meal twice.

8. DIANA STAVARIDIS

Chef Diana Stavaridis has been working in restaurants most of her life.  A Massachusetts native,  she was cleaning lobsters at age 6 in her grandparent’s kitchen and harvesting tomatoes in the backyard. Diana graduated with a BA in Advertising and Marketing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. After a brief stint working in finance in Boston, she realized that her true passion was in the culinary arts.  

Diana moved to Los Angeles to attend the L.A. Trade Tech Culinary School. While attending school, she worked with chef Joe Miller and worked the line with Neal Fraser at Grace Restaurant. In 2006, Fraser opened BLD Restaurant and Diana was the Sous Chef. By 2008, she was running the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine.  There she created the “Vegan Benedict” with house smoked tofu bacon, and the “Vegan Chickpea Burger” with Jalapeno Cashew Cheese. After four years at BLD, Diana was ready for a new challenge and traveled to France to explore another region and culture.

While in Paris, Diana staged under Michelin Star Chef Giles Epie at Citrus Etoile and renowned Chef Gregory Marchand of Frenchie’s. She traveled around the French countryside, visiting farms, milking cows and learning to prepare French cheeses and pressed walnuts oils. Her final stage was baguettes and pastries at an artisanal Boulangerie.

Back in the states, Diana settled in San Francisco and began consulting local farms on sustainability and cooked at one of her favorite seasonally market-driven restaurants Café Gibraltar with Chef Jose Ugalde.

Diana Stravaridis is an accomplished, celebrated chef who knows her way around nose­ to­ tail cooking, mushroom foraging, cheese preparations and the smoking of game. She’s also a super smart business woman. Case in point, when she returned to LA, she consulted for Back on the Beach Café in Santa Monica. In addition to redesigning the menu, she implemented systems and procedures to provide extensive vendor savings, reduced ticket times and increased check averages. Diana was highly focused on reducing labor costs and providing the owners with documented training and prep procedures and a Back on the Beach House recipe book.

Known as “Chef D,” Diana was tapped as the Executive Chef for Manhattan House, which opened as a farm-to-table gastropub in Manhattan Beach in May 2015. With a community garden, Chef D creates beautiful dishes with hyper local seasonal produce and a focus on food sustainability. The partners in the project all hail from Manhattan (aka New York City), hence the name, which works perfectly in the gorgeous ocean-side town of Manhattan Beach.

Diana is also deeply involved with the community garden program, Growing Great, where she spends her free time helping local children learn the benefits of eating what you grow. She has appeared on several television shows such as Food Networks “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and as a guest judge on “The Next Food Network Star.”

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