M CAFÉ DE CHAYA | Los Angeles
Lee Gross has been studying Macrobiotics, traditional cuisines
and alternative health since 1999. After receiving classical culinary
training and undergraduate degrees from Johnson & Wales University
in Providence, Rhode Island, he pursued careers in the restaurant
and retail foodservice industries. Lee gained experience under celebrated
chefs from around the country, including such notables as Daniel
Bruce at the Boston Harbor Hotel and Philippe Jeanty at Domaine
Chandon in California’s Napa Valley. Lee also worked
at Providence’s famed Al Forno Restaurant, under
the tutelage of George Germon and Johanne Killeen.
In the fall of 1999, with the intention of meshing his skills and
talents with his social ideals and personal ethics, Gross began
an intensive two year study program in Macrobiotics at the Kushi
Institute in Becket, Massachusetts. With a heightened understanding
of the relationship between food, health and the environment, he
committed himself to developing a new style of cuisine grounded
in a strong nutritional and ecological imperative. As his cooking
evolved, he built upon a platform of sound culinary technique, enriching
it with a Macrobiotic sensibility, and a progressive creative vision.
In the summer of 2000, Gross was recruited to open a small restaurant
in the East Village of New York City committed to serving organic,
natural foods. He seized the opportunity to put his evolving vision
into action, and developed a cutting-edge menu that fused Macrobiotic
principles with classical cooking technique to create food with
bold, international flavors, and a vital, healing energy. The
Organic Grill opened to rave reviews, and continues to offer
innovative vegan, vegetarian and Macrobiotic foods.
A chance meeting with Mina Dobic, the Macrobiotic counselor to
Oscar-award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 2001, led to Gross
being recruited as Gwyneth’s personal chef. Mina singled him
out because of his unique mix of professional kitchen experience,
intensive Macrobiotic training, and dedication to a vital, healing
cuisine. Gwyneth was hooked on Gross’s modern interpretations
of classical macrobiotic dishes. Traveling the globe with Gwyneth
has enabled Gross to enrich his cooking with traditional culinary
techniques from countries such as Japan, Spain and England.
Gross spent time in Japan and had gone to see a friend from New
York who was the executive chef at a new Macrobiotic restaurant
in Japan. He thought it was a coincidence that the restaurant name
was Chaya Macrobiotic as he had gone to another restaurant
in Los Angeles with Gwyneth called Chaya. He was surprised
to learn that it was the same family of restaurants. When he returned
to the US he contacted Chaya to see if they had plans of
opening anything like this in the States. Gross’s timing was
perfect, as the Chaya family in the US was already working
on this new concept.
Executive chef and owner Shigefumi Tachibe of Chaya US
met with Gross not long after this. Executive chef Tachibe felt
that Gross was the perfect person to come and work with him as the
chef de cuisine on this new project which was set to open in Los
Angeles in May 2005.
“I’m passionate about food,” Gross says. I am
very excited to be working with executive chef Tachibe and the Chaya
family on this exciting new concept. Macrobiotics allows me to feel
good about the food that I cook and serve. It brings integrity and
wholesomeness to my cuisine. I hope this new concept can serve as
a model for a sustainable future. Cuisine today should celebrate
seasonal, locally procured produce and be crafted with less reliance
on animal products and processed foods. I am very excited for this
new opportunity. This is a recipe for a better tomorrow.”
AB: Who are your mentors?
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned
LG: Julie Jordan, a chef in
Ithaca, NY, turned me on to macrobiotic cooking. Phillipe Jeanty
at Domaine Chandon – he taught me to employ the French
technique that I learned in school and actually use it! He also
taught me love. George and Johanne from Al Forno in Providence,
RI, taught me passion, as opposed to love, and how to run a restaurant.
AB: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
LG: There is a lot of baggage
surrounding the macrobiotics practice and its food – I don’t
think too hard about it. I live and eat in the moment while listening
to my body.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients
that you especially like? Why?
LG: Miso – fermented
food that has a depth of flavor. Umeboshi extract and paste from
the pickled plums. It’s magic, a tonic for the body, and its
flavor is off the charts. Shiso – its aroma and flavor is
a cross between basil and mint. Agar – this sea vegetable
is very healthy and can be used everywhere that regular gelatin
can be used. Kudzu root – for its thickening power and positive
effect in the small intestine.
AB: What is your most indispensable
LG: The Suribachi-surikogi,
a Japanese mortar and pestle that brings me back to primal cooking.
It fills you with the aroma of what you are grinding. The act of
using it is balancing.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
LG: I make cheese from tofu.
I culture tofu with miso, pickling it to make a parmesan-like cheese.
I also make chevre.
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
LG: I ask them if they like
to eat. Indifference makes me skeptical.
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
LG: Go to school if you can
afford it. Study culture – that is the best way to study cuisine.
Watch cooking shows but not on The Food Network. Read everything.
AB: What are your favorite
Book of Tempeh – it is an encyclopedia detailing
its traditional use and how it is used culturally. Bill Shrutleff
– his whole series and The
Cabbage Town Café Cookbook.
AB: What cities do you like
for culinary travel?
LG: Northern California –
everything I ate tasted like manna. New York – there’s
nothing like it for taste and flavors.
AB: What are your favorite
restaurants – off the beaten path – in Los Angeles?
LG: Hungry Cat and
Inaka, which is straight-up macrobiotic in the Japanese
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
LG: Much more use of whole
food and whole grains. Sustainability is growing. Plant-based food
interest is growing and traditional food is coming back.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
LG: Teaching on some level.
I want to be at the forefront of this movement. I want to help change
the industry for the better.