WATER GRILL | Los Angeles
Executive chef David LeFevre is a native of Wisconsin but
has logged countless miles on culinary adventures to the world’s
most exotic destinations. Growing up in Madison, he often assisted
his mother in the kitchen, which may have been the unwitting genesis
of his future career as a chef. “I loved to eat and realized
that if I knew how to cook, I could eat anytime I wanted,”
he remembers. However, the Midwestern teen enrolled at the University
of Wisconsin to pursue a career in industrial engineering—about
as far as one can get, geographically and philosophically, from
the great kitchens of the world.
After meeting some chefs at various restaurant jobs, LeFevre left
the structured world of engineering to focus his energy on succeeding
in the culinary world. He enrolled at the renowned Culinary Institute
of America. He interned at super chef Charlie Trotter’s celebrated
restaurant in Chicago, where he made enough of an impression on
his mentor to land a job as tournant at Trotter’s Las Vegas
venue after graduation in 1995. The Las Vegas restaurant was a few
years ahead of its time, and when it closed the young chef looked
to the other side of the Atlantic for inspiration.
With Trotter’s support, LeFevre traveled to France to refine
his classical skills in some of the world’s most exalted kitchens.
The list of apprenticeships on LeFevre’s résumé
reflects a veritable constellation of Michelin stars, including
such rarefied venues as the late Bernard Loiseau’s restaurant,
La Côte d’Or, Restaurant Jean Bardet
and Roger Vergé’s Le Moulin de Mougins. When
he returned, LeFevre moved to the Windy City in 1996 to work as
a line cook at Trotter’s flagship restaurant, where he quickly
advanced to sous chef and, subsequently, executive sous chef.
In addition to his grueling responsibilities in one of America’s
top kitchens, LeFevre also participated in over fifty national and
international culinary events, cooking for celebrities, heads of
state and at the James Beard House. His recipes and the artistically
plated food he prepared have been captured in several of Trotter’s
award- winning coffee table cookbooks, and he contributed to the
production of the PBS television series, Kitchen Sessions with Charlie
Trotter. Traveling the world as a representative of Trotter’s,
LeFevre acted as a liaison and assistant to some of the biggest
names in the culinary world, such as Alain Ducasse, Michel Trama
and Gordon Ramsey, arguably the most influential toques in the world
Anxious to explore new cuisines, flavors and exotic locales, LeFevre
began two years of intensive globetrotting in 2002, immersing himself
in the culinary riches of Southeast Asia, Japan, Australia, the
Caribbean, and Europe. Teaming with leading hoteliers and restaurateurs
on four continents, the young chef consulted, made guest chef appearances
and conducted promotional events in destinations as diverse as Singapore,
Bangkok, Stockholm and Tokyo. His fascination with the cuisines
of northern Africa, Southeast Asia and India has already begun to
influence his cooking. Although he never abandons the classic French
technique he refined at the sides of the great masters, LeFevre
is constantly open to new, exciting flavor combinations from the
far corners of the globe.
In 2004, LeFevre was recruited for the position of executive chef
at the Water Grill, where he looks forward to fully establishing
the restaurant as one of the premier destinations for sophisticated
seafood dining in North America. The 32-year-old chef’s approach
eschews excessively heavy sauces, relies on the freshest, highest
quality seafood and vegetables, and focuses on clean, bright flavors
with citrus, spice and herbal overtones. While his dishes are artfully
plated, he favors presentations that reflect forms found in nature,
as opposed to contrived geometric structures. LeFevre’s core
philosophy is promising news indeed for Water Grill diners:
“I always try to exceed the expectations of my guests…also
to exceed the expectations of my crew…and especially of myself,”
says the ambitious, introspective chef.
AB: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
DL: I like bright, fresh flavors.
I want flavors to pop in your mouth. I like to use acidity, vinegars
and citrus to balance the richer elements on a dish. I like our
guests to feel satiated, but not as if they can’t move afterwards.
During tasting menus, I think it is important for the guest to want
just one more bite of the previous dish so it keeps them anticipating
AB: Are there any secret
ingredients that you especially like?
DL: Fresh wasabi. It has an
amazing fresh bite without a harsh burn, and it finishes sweet.
Preserved lemon is incredible with seafood. Tonburi has a great
earthy flavor and texture and is nice with raw preparations. Sumac,
because of the tartness and acidity.
AB: What is your most indispensable
DL: My Japanese knives. Masamoto
and Aritsugu have used the same metal and the same wood for hundreds
of years. You can’t beat it. Also my shark skin wasabi grater.
It’s the ultimate tool to get that perfect grate. With both
of those tools you have incredible histories, craftsmanship, design,
and even ergonomics. Sometimes tools from 100 years ago are better
than the most cutting-edge technology.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
DL: I think that I humbly do
adaptations and combinations of dishes and ingredients. I don’t
think I could be so bold as to say, “I created this dish.”
I merely do my take on ingredients and concepts that have been practiced
by hundreds of chefs for hundreds of years, in most cases.
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
DL: Why do you like to cook?
Why did you leave your last job? It tells me what they’re
looking for. What’s your favorite type of seafood? I have
my sous chef screen all potentials and then I do a second interview
with anyone who makes it past that point. I like to walk very fast
during a tour of the restaurant to see if potential candidates keep
up. I know it sounds crazy, but I need to see that they are eager
and have a great energy about them.
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
DL: Don’t worry about
titles or how much money you are or aren’t going to make.
Concentrate on the people you are working with and their commitment
to excellence, the product you are working with, and how much you
will develop in each position you take on. Never take a job you
are comfortable with. You should have that nervous energy going
into each service.
AB: What are your favorite
Joy of Cooking. It’s so old school, and it’s got
great basics. Moosewood cookbooks remind me of my mom. All the Trotter
books are dear to me. A Japanese cookbook by Artisugu, the knife
maker. It covers everything from how to wash your cutting board
to how to stand and tie your apron correctly – the Japanese
are so precise!
AB: What cities do you like
for culinary travel? Which is the most interesting city for culinary
DL: Singapore and Chang Mai
are awesome for great cultural food, but San Sebastian is probably
my favorite city of where I have visited.
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DL: Thinking outside the box,
getting all your senses involved, using different tools. It’s
all very interesting as long as it tastes great. I personally love
to see reemerging old classics.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
DL: I see myself in beautiful
surroundings, in a less metropolitan and slightly smaller restaurant
with a highly personalized cuisine. I want to be involved in all
aspects of the restaurant: design, service, wine, architecture,