NOOK | Los Angeles
James Richardson started his career in the kitchen washing
dishes and shucking oysters in his home town in the Gulf-coast region
of Florida. When he moved to Tampa for college, a strange accident
involving the resident chef of a kitchen Richardson was working
in led to him filling in and writing the specials for the day. He
was always interested in the culinary arts, but this fateful opportunity
changed his focus, and he began to take cooking seriously.
In 1997, his first mentor, chef Jean Pierola, took him from line
cook up to sous chef at Boca, advancing his skills and
focus. In 1998, Richardson went out on his own and opened a restaurant
named Atomic Café. At Atomic Café
he learned the ups and downs, ins and outs of the kitchen and earned
his hard knocks. The restaurant ran its course, and he eventually
ended up back with Pierola, where he contributed to modernizing
the classic steak house, Berns. Feeling as though he had
done all he could in Florida, Richardson headed out to Los Angeles
in 2001 for a fresh start.
Working his way up from line cook to co-executive chef, Richardson
was finding his way again. After spending the summer of 2002 back
in Florida due to family obligations, Richardson returned to Los
Angeles and began working with friends and current business partners
at Bergamot Café. The idea for opening Nook
Bistro was quickly hatched where Richardson is now part owner
and executive chef.
AB: Did you attend culinary
school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JR: I never went to school.
It can be a good thing, a good jump for kids. I do feel that school
is good for learning the basics, but I usually dissuade kids from
going to school before working in the kitchen. It is important for
people to understand the reality and pressure of actually working
in a kitchen.
AB: Who are your mentors?
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned
JR: Jeanie Pierola. She is
an incredible chef. I worked in a few restaurants with her. She
is corporate chef at Sideburn’s and Bern’s
Steakhouse. From her I learned passion: being excited about
what you are doing. I also learned about wine from her and a deep
appreciation for pairing food with wine. She was generous with her
AB: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
JR: There is a theory in philosophy
that there are no original ideas, all ideas are already out there.
The same can be said about food. You have to make the basic ingredients,
like ideas, your own. I have learned over time to focus on a few
key elements, simple bold flavors, keeping a dish true to its integral
AB: Are there any secret ingredients
that you especially like?
JR: Braised meats of any kind
– cooked to perfection, and unusual heirloom legumes.
AB: What is your most indispensable
JR: My microplane – it’s
the best thing since the rubber spatula. It’s fast and easy,
and I can use it for so many things.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
JR: I like to use slow cooking
methods, but I haven’t yet used sous vide. I also
use spice rubs a lot. I make a curry spice and my own curing blends,
like the coriander cure.
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JR: What was your favorite
dish at your previous restaurant and please describe to me how it’s
made. I’m looking for passion. You can teach technique, but
you can’t teach someone to care.
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
JR: You should be learning
something every day from anyone in your kitchen—including
your dishwashers. I’ve learned some great things from those
you least expect.
AB: What are your favorite
JR: I don’t really have
any favorites, but I do love Julia Child and Jacques Pepin books.
They’re incredible, old school, but ground-breaking nonetheless.
They really were turning points for the industry in their time.
Also, Sheila Lukins’ first cookbook was really the first modern
gourmet cookbook. All the recipes work and they are well explained.
AB: What cities do you like
for culinary travel?
JR: San Francisco, New York,
and Paris. There are so many great chefs in one city. I love New
Orleans, one whiff of the humid air and I know I am home.
AB: What are your favorite
restaurants –off the beaten path – in your city?
JR: There are no unbeaten paths
in Los Angeles, but I do enjoy the fried lentils at Cobras and
Matadors. And for Mexican: Allegria in Silverlake
for their carnitas.
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JR: I see more mid-priced,
chef-driven, neighborhood restaurants.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
JR: Hopefully I’ll have
two more restaurants. I’d like small neighborhood restaurants
but with different concepts.