Chef of the Moment: Rockenwagner’s Cesar Bermudez Cifuentes, pastry chef/tapas maker
Cesar Bermudez Cifuentes is executive pastry chef at Rockenwagner Cafe & Bakeries and the force behind La Sal pop-up tapas bar at 3 Square Cafe. The Barcelona, Spain, native worked for two decades as a pastry chef in Monaco, France and Spain, including Martin Berasategui’s Lasarte and a season spent at the influential progressive restaurant elBulli. A few years ago, he moved to Los Angeles to work at Jose Andres’ Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. He most recently was at Flores in West L.A. At Cafe Rockenwagner, his desserts include pastries such as tarte Tropezienne, raspberry and lemon tart, salted caramel eclairs and bombes -- domes of layered cake and mousse coated in dark chocolate. At La Sal, his tapas menu might include house-made ricotta with anchovies and lemon, patatas bravas, tortilla espanola with onion; and a La Sal burger with brie, jam and pickles. Of course there’s dessert: flan Paquita-style, fresh pineapple with molasses and lime zest, and strawberries with house-made yogurt and black pepper. La Sal takes place Wednesday to Saturday 6 to 11 p.m. throughout the summer.
What’s coming up next on your menu?
I’m thinking of figs wrapped in jamon Iberico, but I’m waiting for good figs. After that I’ll be looking for persimmons and putting them with shaved bottarga. I like to use vinegar caramel sauce for dressing. It’s good with everything: sweet and savory. Also tuna with mojo rojo, a red sauce from Spain with bell pepper, tomato, cayenne, cumin and olive oil, very typical dish from the Canary Islands.
Latest ingredient obsession?
Being here in Southern California I’m seeing a lot of things I don’t see in Spain, like Meyer lemons and kale. Other people are obsessed with raw kale in salads, but I like to char it and combine it with leeks, and serve it with a delicious romesco sauce. I never saw kale before, but I love it this way.
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again?
Earl’s Gourmet Grub, on Venice near Gandview. There’s really good sandwiches there. My preferred: the Pig and Fig -- prosciutto, blue cheese and fig hash on “3 season” bread -- simple but good ingredients. Like the Spanish philosophy that you can find three excellent ingredients to make the perfect dish. Not a big deal, it’s just that to me, very simple and clean food is less confusing and highlights the ingredients.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives?
My little offset spatula. The first day at elBulli is like a big meeting with 50 cooks from all over the world. ... In the meeting they read the employee handbook, and what tools do you need? You ONLY need the small offset spatula. After my season at elBulli, I cannot make a move in the kitchen without my spatula. I keep one in my back pocket.
What’s your favorite breakfast?
Toasted bread and coffee. Years ago, in Spain, I worked in a wholesale bakery owned by two brothers making hundreds of kilos of bread a day. One day they decided to close down their wholesale operation and went back to doing everything by hand, baking in a 200-year-old wood-fired oven. Opening the bakery at 9 a.m. and sold out all the bread at 11 a.m. and going fishing at the beach. The bread from that oven is my favorite breakfast, with butter and homemade jam. Since I can’t get that now, a piece of sourdough or a ciabatta from Rockenwagner bakery is an excellent substitute.
What chef has most influenced you?
I have trouble choosing between Ferran Adria and his brother Albert. Ferran is very disciplined, organized and hard-working. He is tasting, thinking and cataloging things in a methodical way all the time. Albert’s strength is creativity. He plates like an artist, super light and beautiful, but super solid, with integrity. Everything is perfect because of his intense style of thinking and execution.
La Sal at 3 Square Cafe, 1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-6504; Cafe Rockenwagner, 1168 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 478-6313; www.rockenwagner.com.
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