Five questions for chef Josef Centeno

Five questions with Pete's, Orsa & Winston, Baco Mercat and Bar Ama chef Josef Centeno a.k.a. king of downtown

Josef Centeno is the chef-owner of downtown’s Bäco Mercat, Bar Amá, Orsa &; Winston and, most recently, Pete’s Los Angeles. Before becoming the unofficial restaurant king of downtown’s Old Bank district, Centeno started his career in New York at Daniel, La Côte Basque and Les Celebrites. He was also executive chef at Meson G and Opus in Los Angeles, and worked as chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif.

At Pete’s, Centeno was inspired by his first cookbook, “James Beard’s American Cookery.” Menu items include Mrs. G.W. Sanborn’s shrimp with Flavor Grenade plum, pickled potato, egg and buttermilk-mayo, and a fried chicken “club” with chicken thigh, country ham, cracklings and American cheese. There’s also daily chalkboard specials highlighting seasonal ingredients, including charred broccolini and uni butter, autumn squash and lobster bisque, and grilled baby fennel with mango, Concord grapes and scallion.

Meanwhile, at Orsa &; Winston, Centeno is gearing up for a two-night Yakitori-Ya event Tuesday and Wednesday, featuring Japanese binchotan-grilled proteins prepared in the restaurant’s signature Italian-Japanese style.

What’s coming up next on your menu? The Pete’s menu has been evolving, and the chalkboard specials are always changing. Lots of vegetables, grilled heart of puntarelle with Santa Barbara uni, dry-farmed persimmons with red walnuts, grapefruit and tarragon, and roasted delicata squash with Old Bank honey, Plugra and sea salt. We’re also heading into a two-night event at Orsa &; Winston featuring Japanese yakitori, using both Japanese and Italian ingredients: I’m thinking along the lines of guanciale-wrapped chicken liver, persimmon and lardo, prosciutto and Asian pear, ume and brown sugar delicata squash.

Latest ingredient obsession? Livermore red walnuts. They’re vivid red and not as tannic as some other walnuts. They have a great oily quality -- oily in a good way -- and they’re creamy. I’m putting them in vegetable dishes, but they go great with everything from sweet fruit to gamey poultry.

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? Lately I’ve been working seven days a week, so I haven’t been going anywhere, but I love going to restaurants when I can. Night + Market Song in Silver Lake -- for the pork shoulder marinated in turmeric and condensed milk, and I could eat crispy rice salad for forever. In the neighborhood, Terroni (I eat a lot of the squid salad), Gelateria Uli, Guisados, Maccheroni Republic and Grand Central Market.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? A 9-inch wood-handled stainless steel flat spatula from the restaurant supply store Dehillerin in Paris. Chef Ron Siegel gave me my first one.

What chef has most influenced you? I learned from every chef I’ve ever worked for, but [Manresa chef] David Kinch really showed me how to look at ingredients in a different way, keeping their integrity while also pushing for new flavor combinations.

Pete’s Los Angeles, 400 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-7015, www.petesla.com; Bäco Mercat, 408 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-8808, www.bacomercat.com; Orsa &; Winston, 122 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-0300, www.orsaandwinston.com; Bar Amá, 118 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-8002, www.bar-ama.com.

More on your favorite chefs? Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_

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