As part of our month-long expedition across North America, we paid a visit to Test Kitchen LA, a temporary restaurant in West Los Angeles featuring new, often experimental dishes from a continuously rotating roster of renowned chefs from around the world. (When we visited, Top Chef alum Marcel Vigneron was in the kitchen, with fellow Top-Chefer Alex Reznik acting as Sous-Chef.)
We sat down with Brian Saltsburg, co-founder and parter at Test Kitchen, to talk about the evolving food and dining culture in LA and the inspiration behind his unique restaurant.
What inspired you to open Test Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
Inspiration came from a lot of places. The concept was really based on giving chefs an opportunity to cook the foods they wanted – without constraints, without the need to offer substitutions, vegetarian options, or hamburgers and chicken caeser salads – Things that chefs may or may not actually want to make.
What’s the typical Test Kitchen experience?
All of our chefs put together a tasting menu – between 4-12 courses at their discretion, with pricing controlled by them using normal industry guidelines. They have complete discretion to make whatever they like with just a few caveats. If they currenty work in a restaurant here in LA, they can’t serve anything from that menu. They have to serve new dishes – either dishes they plan to introduce to their restaurant or ones that will never see the light of day at their restaurant – just nothing that they are already making.
What are some unique aspects of LA food culture? What defines it?
We’re an immigrant culture, over 50% of people living here are residents – that means very high exposure to foreign ingredients, foreign elements.
And, we have a fairly vibrant underground dining scene – be it underground dining clubs, cooking clubs, pop up restaurants, guest chef appearances – you could call it event driven food.
…Chefs here in LA are branching off from established restauranteurs to open smaller restaurants, restaurants they can get their hands around. Places that emphasize fine food – but not ‘fine dining’ - making it about the food experience and not the dining experience. Most of these places are in the 40-70 seat range – The Gorbals, Animal, Lazy Ox Canteen, Red Medicine, Father’s Office - any of these places that are highly associated with a chef but are casual in nature.
Where is food culture in LA headed?
I’m a firm believer that as much as there are trends – there’s also a natural pendulum. As much as things are swinging away f/ fine dining, and away from formality, and away from essentially the idea of dining out that our parents or grandparents might have had – that doesn’t mean that this is a permanent shift. It means it’s the direction and place we are headed now and the immediate future. Whether we ever return to fine dining is a harder question, one I’m not sure I have the the answer to.
But right now, I believe the movement is towards fine food and not fine dining, where the chef really controls the experience – what they believe people should experience – not as much as a kinda market research driven “I know i need a chicken breast, I know i need a hamburger’ kind of menu.
What is the future of Test Kitchen LA?
Test Kitchen by definition was supposed to be temporary. And we are temporary – we still plan to close. So for any of you reading who want to try it – you gotta come quickly, ’cause if you wait to long you’re going to miss it…