Chef’s Rule for Rewriting Menus: Don’t

Patrick Healy, chef and co-owner of the justly popular Champagne in West Los Angeles, called the other day to chat about something that’s been bothering him--a tendency on the part of some of his customers to want to rewrite his menus. They want a sauce he has created for one dish applied to another, for instance, or they ask to shuffle accompaniments around, as if every single item mentioned were a la carte, and it were each client’s responsibility to arrange them so that they made sense.

Now, Healy is well-known in the local restaurant community as a pleasant and reasonable young man. He is not at all, in other words, one of those egos-at-high-boil that run some kitchens hereabouts. And indeed, he is quick to stress, he accommodates his customers whenever possible. “But I think people should realize,” he says, “that wanting to change everything around is something that has always killed chefs who spend a long time working on their menus, trying to match sauces, vegetables, and so on. I’ll always serve a sauce on the side or hold it altogether, but we get some very strange requests sometimes, like people wanting a sauce for meat put on their fish. I can’t change things around for everybody , because once I start, I’d never be able to stop.” There are three big problems here, Healy admits: “My professional pride, my sense of judgement about food and just plain time .”

Having noted Healy’s plaint, I’d be interested to hear more opinions on the subject--from chefs and customers alike.

CHECKERS MATE: Elka Gilmore, former chef at Camelions in Santa Monica and chef/proprietor of the now-defunct Tumbleweed in Beverly Hills, has been named executive chef at the Ayala Hotel group’s new Checkers, a luxury hostelry due to open in March, downtown, on Grand Avenue between 5th and 6th streets (on the site of the old Mayflower Hotel).


Meanwhile, at Ayala’s flagship property, Campton Place in San Francisco, Jan Birnbaum moves into the executive chef’s office--replacing Bradley Ogden, who is leaving to open his own restaurant. Birnbaum, who has been working under Ogden, is a veteran of three of the country’s best restaurants--the Rattlesnake Club in Denver, the Quilted Giraffe in New York, and Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s in New Orleans. Birnbaum takes over officially on February 15, though Ayala president Bill Wilkinson adds, “We expect that Bradley will be around helping us here and there throughout the end of March.”

EAST MEETS WEST: Speaking of chefs who have moved, our own Roy Yamaguchi, formerly of 385 North, will open his new restaurant, Roy’s, on Jan. 28 in Honolulu. Local talent is also responsible for the look: the L.A. firm Grinstein-Daniels (designers of Chaya Brasserie) designed the new restaurant. Says Yamaguchi, who is known for his combinations of Asian and European cooking: “The Islands are where East meets West. I think we were made for each other.”

TABLE TALK: Chopstix, on Melrose Avenue, which describes itself as “Southern California’s hottest grazing spot” (and who can argue?), has opened a second location in Sherman Oaks at the La Reina Center. . . . The Epicurean Cooking School in West Hollywood offers classes with two noted Bay Area chefs this month: Paul Bertolli, chef at Chez Panisse (and author of the new book “Chez Panisse Cooking”) on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. ($75 per person); and Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys on Wednesday, Jan. 25, also at 6:30 p.m. (and also $75 a head). Information: (213) 659-5990. . . . And La Chaumiere in the Century Plaza Hotel features a special wild game and truffle menu at dinner (in addition to the regular menu), through the end of February. Information: (213) 551-3360.