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At Joe’s, top chefs join the kitchen between jobs

JOE’s in Venice might as well be called Joe’s Halfway House, with all the chefs between gigs who end up working at the Michelin-starred Cal-French restaurant.

The list of who’s temporarily parked here includes the Waffle’s Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill (when Naya closed), Fraîche’s Jason Travi (between Granita and Spago), Josef Centeno (before Aubergine and Meson G), Josiah Citrin (after leaving JiRaffe to open Mélisse) and Trey Foshee of Georges at the Cove in La Jolla (between L’Orangerie and Röckenwagner).

The latest chef to make a pit stop at Joe’s is Mark Gold, formerly executive chef of Patina Group’s Leatherby’s Café Rouge in Costa Mesa, which earned three stars from Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. (Gold plans to open his own place, Eva, in Sherman Oaks this spring.)

Word travels quickly when there’s room behind the stoves. In the late ‘90s, Travi says, “I was tipped off by Joe’s good friend Raphael [Lunetta] right after I left Granita that Joe needed a sous chef, and I figured maybe I’d stay a month.” He stayed for six.

A couple of years ago, when chef-owner Joe Miller heard Kanfer-Cartmill had left Naya, he asked if she’d take over the kitchen while he was on vacation. “I said, you mean I get to play in your kitchen? Super! When can I start?” Kanfer-Cartmill recalls. “I had always joked I wanted to grow up and cook just like Joe Miller someday. For a couple of months, I got to.”

Miller says there’s more to it than hospitality. Despite the high turnover, “I get a sous chef with a lot of experience who knows how to run a kitchen, and there’s no learning curve,” Miller says. “And they’re happy to keep busy between projects.”

“They understand they have to do my style of cooking for the main dishes, but I let them have free rein on the daily tasting menu.”

In September, Miller heard Gold was looking for temporary work. “I needed someone really good while I was opening Bar Pintxo,” Miller says, referring to his new tapas bar in Santa Monica.

What does Gold, used to heading his own kitchen, think of taking a back seat?

“Joe likes a lot more little things on the plate -- garnishes and things -- than I do,” Gold says.

“But we’re at the same level of quality, and creatively, I just focus on my menu.”

On a recent night, Gold’s tasting menu included snapper with salsify purée, romesco sauce, crispy pork belly and carrot butter, and a dish of duck confit with udon noodles, hearts of palm and artichokes in brown butter.

Could it be a hint of what’s ahead at Eva? Gold says we’ll have to wait to find out.

As for Miller, he’ll soon be on the lookout for a new sous chef.

“Who knows? Maybe someone interesting will just call me.”

-- Jenn Garbee

Small bites

* In West Hollywood, Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak and SBE’s Foxtail have opened. The former is serving Kobe strip steak and broiled Maine lobster; at the latter, “Top Chef” contestant Antonia Lofaso is cooking up “European bistro cuisine.” BLT Steak, 8720 W. Sunset Blvd., (310) 360-1950, www.bltsteak.com. Foxtail, 9077 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 360-1950, www.sbeent.com.

* The two “Blues,” Blue on Blue and Blue Velvet, have new chefs. Scott Garrett succeeds Gabriel Gabreski at Blue on Blue at the Avalon Hotel, and Jonathon McDowell takes over for Kris Morningstar at Blue Velvet. Blue on Blue, Avalon Beverly Hills, 9400 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 407-7791, www.avalonbeverlyhills.com. Blue Velvet, 750 S. Garland Ave., downtown, (213) 239-0061, www.bluevelvetrestaurant.com.


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