Plan B pays off for chef

When Chef Nadav Bashan’s boyhood dream of firefighting didn’t pan out, he went to plan B: the Southern California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.

Bashan, whose cozy north Glendale restaurant bears the same name, cooks by a simple philosophy of salt and pepper, no marinades or rubs, only the finest local ingredients prepared simply and let the ingredients shine on their own. His work ethic? There’s no way to wing it. You have to work hard and pay your dues.

Bashan began paying his dues on just his second day of culinary school, when he landed an internship at Lobster, a new restaurant in Santa Monica, under celebrity chef Allison Thurber (The Water Grill). As a rookie chef, Bashan recalls the sink-or-swim environment of a high-volume kitchen serving 200-300 plates for lunch and 400 for dinner every day.

“Allison really took me under her wing,” said Bashan. “I learned how to make dressings for 300 people and make soups for 400 people. It was a really great place to start.”

Bashan worked his way up the ranks at Lobster, doing the lunch shift from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. before commuting to culinary school in Pasadena every day for almost two years. Despite feeling burned out at the program’s end, Bashan stuck to his career decision.

About two years after starting with Lobster, a busboy told Bashan about an opening in the kitchen at Michael McCarty’s Santa Monica restaurant named Michael’s. Bashan got hired on, again starting from the bottom, peeling potatoes as a prep cook.

“I wanted to start at the bottom,” said Bashan, “so when I got to the chef level I would know exactly what’s required of every single position.”

After peeling potatoes and prepping onions — 100 pounds a day — for stocks, Bashan spent two years learning each station of the kitchen, moving to pastry, pantry, sauté then grill and eventually sous-chef.

Five years into his cooking experience, Michael’s promoted Bashan to executive chef.

“I think I moved up a little too quickly,” Bashan said. “I’m kind of an old school chef. I think that you need years and years of experience before you get to the chef level and I stayed there a long time.”

McCarty also mentored Bashan in the tenets of California cuisine, greatly influencing his culinary perspective. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Bashan walked the block from the restaurant to the Santa Monica farmers market, building relationships with growers and learning the art of shopping California’s freshly-picked produce.

After staying on at Michael’s for seven more years as executive chef, Bashan sensed that his career had plateaued. A new restaurant named Providence had just opened in Hollywood and Bashan found himself seeking out renowned chef and restaurant owner Michael Cimarusti and following his culinary dream of working under a master chef. Cimarusti did not have a chef de cuisine or sous-chef position available and felt skeptical, according to Bashan, that an executive chef could fit in on the cooking line.

“I proved to him that I really just wanted to work under him and I didn’t care about position. It was really still about learning,” said Bashan. “I think he really appreciated that and he hired me as a lead-line cook.”

Though Bashan took a demotion and significant cut in pay to cook for Cimarusti at the Providence, he felt compensated with the greatest culinary experience of his life.

After working for a top chef and hitting this milestone in his career, Bashan knew the time had come to venture out on his own and open a restaurant. After an attempt at a fine-dining Mexican food restaurant disintegrated in development, Bashan happened upon a for-sale listing for Bistro Verdu on Craigslist.

“My wife and I had eaten there before and remembered the small, quaint, you know, neighborhood-vibe-type restaurant it is and I was like, ‘This would be perfect.’”

Bashan said he and his brother drove to Bistro Verdu on Verdugo Road the next day, bumping into the owner and nearly striking up a deal that afternoon. With just himself, his father and his brother as the restaurant’s sole investors, him cooking and his wife running the dining room, Bashan is among that dying breed of mom-and-pop, chef-driven restaurants where classically prepared food showcases ingredients direct from California’s farms and the Pacific Ocean.

“It really is a labor of love,” Bashan said.

Infobox

What: Bashan Restaurant

Where: 3459 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale

Phone: (818) 541-1532

Dinner served: Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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