Third part of three parts, please start here with Part 1
Japan for Chef Kevin Meehan was mind blowing as well as very filling. He and his wife spent thousands on food eating everything from blow fish to fish sperm to horse meat; going to three starred Michelin restaurants in Kyoto to small tempura, ramen, udon and robayata shops. What impressed Kevin the most was the small size of these establishments and their dedicated chefs especially the dedication to craft; for example, the small tempura restaurant with its counter service and third generation chef whose main aspiration was to work hard perfecting his craft, tempura.
Such dedication is no where better depicted then in the documentary movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” a movie that came out just when Kevin and his wife returned home to Los Angeles from their vacation. This movie reaffirmed everything that Kevin came to believe from his travels. For Kevin, Mirabelle’s Chef Guy Reuge was his Jiro. Reuge remains one of the most inspiring people and chefs that Kevin has met.
Interviews arranged by headhunters with corporate GM’s further reaffirmed what Kevin did NOT want to do, and that was return to that corporate dining world. Rather Kevin’s own dreams of providing unique dining while further refining his culinary craft brought him to the very simple idea of turning the guest house he was then renovating into a place for him to serve food. This idea was announced on FaceBook for his friends, who he also emailed. The twelve dates serving eight on three weekends were booked before opening up. His great friends provided tremendous support. And thus Kali Dining was born.
Before this first run was over, the second was set up and also sold out. This second location for a month in a sublet in Venice unit (where the movie ‘Cobra’ was shot) served only twelve people a night. So essentially dinner was a party of strangers brought together at a large communal table by their common interest in food and wine. With the success of this second event, Kali Dining got press, and now officially was a pop-up.
Without others giving him operating constraints, Kevin went foraging, hunting, and spending a ton of time sourcing great and unique ingredients. His initial efforts often were too complicated with too many details, so he had to pull back some realizing he “ wasn’t that guy at Noma.”
Though as momentum built, Kevin got a camera and light box, made a lot of different dishes so as to not do the same thing twice, made a book and launched a website. With his hair let down, he was now serving some of his best food ever.
Kali Dining’s cuisine now served omakase style isn’t geared to the guess, there are few modifications. Kevin even stopped typing a menu. So he just goes out and tells the diners what they‘re getting. The guests entrust the chef to provide a delicious six course meal (with a vegetarian option). He describes his service as “organized chaos”.
He spends a lot of time sourcing ingredients. Most guests, he believes don’t fully understand what goes into sourcing the best ingredients. At one of Kevin’s recent events, he served a wild boar he shot using everything in his diner service, except for the skin, even the bones as the base for his ramen stock.
He realizes that this type of service isn’t for every one. The food is some times out there, and requires people to take risks. Though as Kevin explained it, people who go to a haunted house want to be scared without knowing exactly how they will be scared.
Kevin’s pop ups have since occurred in back yards, people’s houses, lofts and other restaurants. The next event coming up downtown this coming January is a place with a small electric range. He’ll adapt as he always does bringing an induction burner and gathering ingredients that will work under this scenario. His service is a traveling restaurant complete with U-haul to transport plates, utensils, furniture and other equipment.
2013 though is the year Kevin hopes to find a home, a hole in the wall location with low rent so that he isn’t burdened by high overhead. Without this monthly nut, unlike a place like Patina that has to cut costs and raise prices to help cover its rent, he believes he can provide “Michelin star quality food at bistro level prices” with amazing ingredients like sea urchin, rib eye, chanterelles and truffles in such a bare bones environment. That’s his goal for now to be another Jiro Ono or Guy Reuge rather than Wolfgang Puck or Joachim Splichal. So rather than worry about any future empire, Meehan’s inspiration and intent is to provide the best dining experience at a fair value to his current and future customers.
Kevin’s plan for his “totally kool” no frills location has already begun with enlisting an attorney to help put together an investor’s package. He says he already has a number of interested parties, but until they put their money down their interest is just words for right now. Both he and his front of house partner are putting a significant amount of their own money on the line too. His goal is too raise a sufficient enough amount to also have a large contingency fund available for unforeseen circumstances. He also has a possible location in mind where he’s begun talking to the landlord. Some recent publicity on eaterLA regarding his fund raising efforts was the inadvertent consequence of a cc’d email, though Kevin welcomes this free publicity and any one willing to get constructively involved to make his project become a reality.
He envisions his restaurant as being similar to a nano- or micro-brewery. (He will go back to having a menu with most likely 4 apps, 4 mains and 2 desserts plus a tasting menu).Such small locations providing quality products Kevin again asserts are the future evolution of the truck and pop-up culture in Los Angeles, and though many hurdles remain for Kevin’s vision to become a reality, a lower cost of entry based upon prudent lease arrangements in less glamorous locations with lower start up costs, provide a way for chef owned and driven concepts to propagate and re-inject Los Angeles restaurant scene with the passion and creativity its been missing. Many of these locations like Kali Dining, Animal, Alma etc may also eventually become the incubators Los Angeles has also been lacking and thus attract chefs from all over the world to work in their kitchens in sunny California with its rich ethnic diversity, creative communities and proximity to great produce, and the bounty of the Pacific.
Without such a vision, the food service scene in L.A. may not vanish. But without such lofty aspirations, Los Angeles will not as readily establish itself as the culinary powerhouse it should be already recognized as in the gastronomical world.
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