The kitchen at Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel-Air was crowded Tuesday evening as a trifecta of powerhouse chefs -- Puck, Roy Choi of Kogi and David Chang of New York's Momofuku empire -- scrutinized each station and its respective crew before dinner service. They were there to cook a one-night-only meal for the lucky diners who were able to snag a reservation.
There were 25-plus cooks in the kitchen, but it was quiet. Only the sounds of the occasional shuffling of feet or clanging of a metal spoon against the side of a pan broke the silence.
When the ticket machine finally whined and the first orders began to spew out on rolls of white paper, the kitchen came to life.
"Chef," one cook called to Chang in the corner. "Yes, chef," another said with a nod to Choi. "Melt more butter in here," one cook told another.
It was the first time these three had come together to cook, but they worked like a well-oiled machine, Choi wearing a signature ball cap, Puck in his chef's coat and Chang in a white T-shirt. Each dish was pored over, with as many as five people involved in just the plating, and brought to the chefs for final inspection before heading out to the tables.
The dishes being ushered through the large swinging kitchen door were not ones you'd expect from a hotel kitchen. It's safe to say the words "ggaejjang style" and "kochujang" have never been printed on a Hotel Bel-Air menu, and that's exactly why Puck wanted Choi and Chang in his kitchen.
"I said, 'You know, we should do something together at the Bel-Air to throw people off a little bit to give them something unexpected,' " said Puck. "I thought it would be surprising here for the people to get that kind of food."
Puck approached Choi about six months ago at the school both of their children attend, with the idea for a collaboration. Choi agreed without hesitation and Puck asked him for a recommendation for a third chef. Choi suggested Chang, he agreed, and the three began planning the dinner together, each taking charge of two dishes.
"We're just happy to be here, happy to cook our style of food," said Choi. "I know a lot of people in Bel-Air don't eat a lot of stuff that we cook, and a lot of people that eat Kogi may not come to the Bel-Air, but I'm about feeding everybody, so that's the fun part for us."
Choi brought his Korean-spiced flair to his dishes with a Santa Barbara spot prawn ggaejjang style with sea urchin, salmon roe, fried garlic crumble, pungent sauce and micro shiso and his crisp Cornish game hen with kochujang, herb salad, fish sauce vinaigrette and what he called a "dragon breath of death kimchi."
Chang prepared a spicy pork sausage with rice cakes, Chinese broccoli and Sichuan peppercorns and a deep-fried short rib with burnt eggplant, peach and garlic scape.
Puck started the meal with a Japanese bluefin toro tuna sashimi with Santa Rosa black plum, fresh wasabi and citrus ponzu, and prepared a sweet Maine lobster with a Thai chile broth, curried stone fruits, citrus cilantro and fragrant curry leaves, and ended the meal with a Bing cherry sorbet, green tea ice cream, yuzu meringue and black sesame crisp.
The three chefs left the kitchen periodically to cruise the dining room and introduce themselves, shake hands and thank everyone for coming. Diners, who each paid $190 for the dinner, with an optional $80 wine pairing, included a slew of twenty- and thirtysomethings, journalists and chefs.
In the kitchen, actor Jon Favreau toured each station, a bandanna wrapped around his sweating forehead. He looked intently at each dish being prepared, part of his shadowing of Choi for an upcoming movie.
"That's a new cook," Choi said pointing to Favreau. "We're kicking his ass."
Puck said he may plan another dinner with the guys next year, but that for now he was happy with how the evening turned out.
"I thought we should shock some of our old customers," Puck said with a chuckle. "Something different up here is good."