Neal Fraser, who has been a successful chef in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, grew up eating chicken pot pie and Stouffer's spinach souffle. And he didn't always want to be a chef. Fraser took up cooking as a trade he could fall back on if times got tough but ended up working with Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Hans Rockenwagner and Joachim Splichal. He then opened the now-closed Boxer, Grace and Rix, where he once prepared an all-hemp, 10-course tasting menu. Now Fraser has the hot dog stall at the Original Farmers Market called Fritzi Dog, the Beverly Boulevard hot spot BLD, the new Redbird in Vibiana (formerly the Cathedral of St. Vibiana), and a new ice cream, doughnut and coffee shop dubbed ICDC underway. We sat down with the busy chef to discuss how he got into cooking and what it's like being a chef in the ever-evolving downtown food scene.
Can we expect an all-hemp tasting menu from you any time soon? Probably not. It's funny, I got so much press from that, but nobody really came. The whole thing with hemp is that it's good for you. It has omega 3 and omega 6 in it — fatty acids, the same as salmon. So I did it for more of a healthy kick. And my sous-chef at the time was a big stoner, so it kind of just played into it.
What's your go-to hot dog? I'd have to say the Bird Dog (turkey and duck) at Fritzi Dog. I think it's the most flavorful and the most different. We kind of grew up eating beans and franks, which is like a fully emulsified hot dog. And I always liked the idea of having a sausage texture to the dog, just because you can kind of see what you're eating more than if it's puréed. And it's the one I spent the most time developing.
What's it like being a chef in downtown now? I always wanted to be a downtown chef. This is my third time working downtown. I've been on Beverly Boulevard, but it's easier to navigate downtown, and you get a bigger brushstroke of people. We get busy at 5 p.m., and every other restaurant I've worked at, you open at 6 p.m., you get, like, five tables, then 7:30 comes around and everyone wants to eat at the same time.
What do you eat if you're up at 2 a.m.? Potato chips, and usually Kettle chips — all of them. Not the super spicy ones, but salt and vinegar, regular, BBQ, blue cheese. There's something about the comfort and simplicity of it, and knowing that it's not horrible for you, and it's easy to get. I don't have to wait for someone to make an entire dish.
What's your favorite thing to eat, that you make? I think roast chicken. I'm most excited about getting this grill behind us working [in the Redbird dining room]. Just marinating the chicken and getting the best chicken we can find — rotisserie-ing the chicken and putting it on a plate. And having, like, a salad with it. I love making a chicken with just beautiful, crispy, delicious skin. I could eat chicken every day.
Fritzi Dog, Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Stall 742, L.A., (323) 936-9436, fritzidog.com. BLD, 7450 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 930-9744, www.bldrestaurant.com. Redbird, 114 E. 2nd St., L.A., (213) 788-1191.