HUNGRY CAT | Los Angeles
David Lentz stumbled upon his culinary career at the age
of 19, when he decided to give up a drama major and take classes
at a local culinary school. He’s been head over heels in love
with cooking and the demanding lifestyle of a chef ever since.
Besides those few classes at the school, Lentz never completed
formal training from that culinary program. He bypassed graduation
and went straight for the professional kitchen. Lentz is passionate
about the hands-on nature of working in the kitchen. He gained attention
in the kitchen at Opaline, and now he’s making waves
at the Hungry Cat, which he co-owns with his wife, Suzanne
Goin, of Lucques and AOC fame.
Lentz’s style at Hungry Cat has been described as
redefining the minimalist. His bare-bones menu brings out his Maryland
roots by perfecting East Coast seafood classics such as the lobster
roll and crab cakes from a century-old recipe out of his home state.
For Lentz, the future is clear: continuing to work in a field that
doesn’t feel like work – and loving every minute of
AB: Did you attend culinary
school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
DL: I did, briefly. I didn’t
graduate and, looking back on it, I really didn’t learn anything
that I would not have learned on the job. I think culinary schools
are worse then ever and they are almost becoming detrimental to
the craft. Most line cooks have culinary school backgrounds. I think
these days the kids are taught the wrong things. It has become too
much of a business. I don't think they warn them about how hard
the work is, and the only reason one should do it is if they love
AB: Who are your mentors?
What are some of the most important things you've learned from them?
DL: My mentors are everyone
that I worked for in the past. I've read probably every cookbook
out there and the masters like Ducasse, Robuchon and Bouley stand
out as influences. I respect chefs that are successful because it
is the toughest business out there. I don't have one mentor that
has made me what I am.
AB: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
DL: Let the ingredients do
the talking – keep it simple. Food should be approachable.
AB: Are there any special
ingredients that you especially like?
DL: Right now I'm into marinated
fish. I have a great purveyor in Hawaii that sends me the best fish
for sashimi. It always blows me away how fresh it is.
AB: What is your most indispensable
DL: Probably a fish spatula
because you can do everything with it. I also just got a Jade Plancha.
It’s great! I cook fish right on the surface and it comes
out perfect every time.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
DL: I like to make sauces to
order and have everything deconstructed to put it together à
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
DL: What’s your ultimate
goal? Do you want to be a chef? Is it your goal to learn, to get
it on your resume?
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
DL: Work your ass off. Read
cookbooks and remember, it’s harder at the top. Also, learn
to multi-task. Experiment with different food.
AB: What is your favorite
Suppers at Lucques.
AB: What cities do you like
for culinary travel?
DL: New York and any city in
AB: What are your favorite
restaurants - off the beaten path - in LA?
DL: Urugawa –
the tasting menu is always different every day. Ammo –
for brunch. I especially like the poached egg with roasted beets.
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DL: Chefs opening too many
restaurants at one time. At a certain point the quality dips.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
DL: Doing the same thing, maybe
doing some different concepts. I like the hands-on aspect of cooking