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Joe Miller, the trailblazing chef behind Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, has died

Joe Miller
Joe Miller, the chef-owner of the former Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, who helped launched the careers of several notable chefs, died Wednesday.
(Greg Doherty / WireImage)

Joseph “Joe” Miller, the eponymous chef-owner of the former Joe’s Restaurant in Venice and one of the most influential L.A. chefs of his generation, died Wednesday. He was 60.

Miller died from complications due to a cardiac arrest that occurred during a cycling trip in mid-September, family members said.

“He has been an important presence in the culinary world for more than 30 years, exemplifying creativity, leadership and mentoring of hundreds of chefs and restaurant professionals,” his family said in a statement. “We mourn his passing and appreciate the outpouring of love and respect to him and the entire family during this very painful and challenging time.”

An Ohio native, Miller opened Joe’s Restaurant along Abbot Kinney Boulevard in 1991, an era when the bohemian beachside neighborhood was better known for boardwalk hot dogs than robust dining options. With an emphasis on peak seasonal produce sourced from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market, Miller’s elegant Cal-French cooking was instrumental in defining the enclave’s burgeoning culinary aesthetic: refined but relaxed, precise but spontaneous, adept at balancing global flavors with a fierce loyalty to the farm-to-table ethos.

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“Everybody loves an underdog,” wrote Jonathan Gold in a 2007 L.A. Weekly restaurant review, “and at Joe’s, which has been an institution since it was the size of a rent-controlled studio beach apartment, half of Venice has a crush on Joe Miller’s uncomplicated cuisine.”

Though the restaurant was awarded one of L.A.’s rare Michelin stars that year, its most prominent legacy was the impressive array of talent that worked for Miller at one time or another, including Josef Centeno of Bäco Mercat, Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry, Josiah Citrin of Mélisse, Andrew Kirschner of Tar & Roses and Kris Tominaga of Manuela.

Once, after I had bemoaned southern California’s lack of good fish houses, I heard from a man who wanted to remind me of the salmon at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice.

Known for his professionalism and commitment, Miller often attracted promising chefs who were moving between gigs and relished an opportunity to cook at Joe’s, even if it was temporary.

“I had always joked I wanted to grow up and cook just like Joe Miller someday,” Tropicale executive chef Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill told The Times in 2008, referring to the time she was entrusted with the restaurant’s kitchen while Miller was on vacation. “For a couple of months, I got to.”

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After 24 years in operation, Miller closed Joe’s in 2016, citing challenges caused by the neighborhood’s changing economic landscape.

Later in his career, Miller opened Bar Pintxo, the popular Santa Monica tapas bar that introduced Angelenos to the pleasures of pan con tomate and patatas bravas, and the new-wave American diner Rudy & Hudson, which closed in 2017. He recently served as a consultant at Pacifique, a modern Japanese restaurant in West Hollywood, and as events manager at chef Dan Barber’s acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York.

“Joe was tough in the kitchen, to say the least. He knew before all us what kind of suffering and dedication it takes to be a chef,” said Brian Dunsmoor, a former sous chef at Joe’s who now runs the Culver City restaurant Hatchet Hall. “Almost everyone I worked with at Joe’s is doing their own thing now. That’s rare in our niche industry. We all owe him our careers for pushing us the way he did.”

Miller graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and later relocated to Los Angeles, cooking his way through the city’s most revered kitchens in the late 1980s, including La Toque, L’Orangerie, Patina and Café Katsu.

Miller also was known for his volunteer and charity work, including his support of the Amie-Karen Cancer Fund and Planned Parenthood. He was presented an Honorary Achievement Award by the City of Los Angeles in 2014.

He is survived by his mother, Molly Miller; brothers Michael and Patrick Miller; children Spencer and Harper Miller; ex-wife Monica Balsz; and fiancée Christine Mourad.


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