Perfecto Rocher is out, Ricardo Zarate is in at Smoke.Oil.Salt restaurant

Russ Parsons
The California Cook

Perfecto Rocher is out at Smoke.Oil.Salt restaurant and Ricardo Zarate is in, at least for a little while.

“Perfecto did a great job getting us to this point, but moving forward we need to be able to move in a more casual direction,” said the Los Angeles restaurant’s operating partner and wine director, Stephen Gelber.

“We want to move back a little closer to what I had originally envisioned for the restaurant  -- an amazing wine bar with the highest quality Spanish food and wine in a very casual vibrant setting -- punk rock fine dining.”

Rocher, who put the year-old restaurant on the map with his authentic Spanish dishes, says he’s going to take a month to return to Spain, visit his mother and recharge his culinary batteries before he returns to Los Angeles in the fall.

Zarate, who has specialized in modern versions of Peruvian cuisine in his three highly praised restaurants, is now the executive consulting chef at the restaurant and will be working there “through the transition,” which, according to Gelber, will take a couple of months.

Rocher says the split stems from his insistence on remaining true to his Spanish roots. 

“It’s nothing against anybody,” he said. “It’s about me and what I want in my life. You have to be true to yourself. It’s tough to do food just because people like it. You don’t feel happy. I don’t feel happy. I want to do my own food, my real food. 

“As a chef, you need to do whatever you have in your soul, you know.”

At Smoke.Oil.Salt, Rocher had been praised by Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, who wrote in a review that “an alarming percentage of the best paellas I have eaten have come from the well-seasoned steel pans of Perfecto Rocher.” Smoke.Oil.Salt was also named one of GQ magazine’s “25 Best New Restaurants in America” under his direction.

Zarate has earned plenty of praise of his own. After earning raves for his lunch-counter-style Mo-Chica when it was located in tiny Mercado La Paloma near the USC campus, he went big under the aegis of Bill Chait’s Sprout restaurant group. He was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs in 2011, and Picca was named one of GQ magazine’s best new restaurants that same year.

He later hit a rough patch with Chait and was ousted from the three restaurants last October.

“We’re going to do a more accessible menu, with a little more friendly price point,” Gelber said. “We have been doing a very sort of Catalan menu. With Ricardo, he’s going to bring a global Latin influence.”

Smoke.Oil.Salt, 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 930-7900,

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