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A humble start for chef John Shaw of Steak and Whisky

Once a dishwasher, chef John Shaw says his eyes were opened by a gift of a Charlie Trotter cookbook

John Shaw, executive chef at Steak and Whisky in Hermosa Beach — where he works alongside chef and partner Tin Vuong (Blackhouse Hospitality, Little Sister, Abigaile) — got his start in the restaurant business when he was 15. Not as an apprentice, but washing dishes at Ciao in Huntington Beach. He worked his way up, roasting garlic and picking parsley, then making pizza dough. Then Ciao chef-owner Stef Serafin gave Shaw his first cookbook, Charlie Trotter's "Meat and Game."

"I was blown away with the detail and whole world of food, and never stopped since," said Shaw.

Shaw went on to work at Pali House and Mélisse, opened Waterloo & City with Brendan Collins, was executive chef at Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar, then moved to New York City to reopen Tavern on the Green. Then he moved back to his native L.A. to open Steak and Whisky with Vuong. At the new beachside steakhouse, Shaw is now making Kurobuta pork short-rib with shoyu glaze and lamb pot pie.

What kind of food did you grow up eating? My mom worked a lot, so I grew up eating quick and easy homemade meals. Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, beef stroganoff, spaghetti with meatballs, and chicken teriyaki with steamed rice. It was basically whatever she could stew in the Crock-Pot for 10 hours while she was at work every day.

Did you always want to be a chef? When I was a kid, I didn't think much into my future. I was having too much fun being a destructive adolescent. When I took my first cooking job at 16 with Brendan Collins, though, I really knew I would sacrifice everything to be like him — a very talented tyrant.

What's it like being a 27-year-old chef in L.A.? Nothing special, really. When I'm in a kitchen cooking or teaching new cooks recipes, hearing pots and pans bang against each other, or putting beautiful, great quality product on a plate for happy guests, nothing else means anything. And if you do it correctly, who cares what age you are doing it at? I've always been the youngest in the kitchen. It pushes me to be better than that old ... grill cook next to me who just asked me if I need a bib for my messy coat.

How do you like your steak? Charred medium rare with lots of Maldon sea salt. Rib-eye preferably.

What's one thing you eat that you won't admit to anyone but us? Uncrustables. My daughter and I share them all the time, and I cannot live without them.

Steak and Whisky, 117 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, (310) 318-5555, steakandwhisky.com

jenn.harris@latimes.com

Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_

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