Interview with Chef Josh Loeb & Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry & Rustic Canyon – Los Angeles, CA

March 18

Antoinette Bruno: When did you begin your culinary career?
Zoe Nathan: I come from a family of serious foodies, so I grew up on good food. I went to art school with like 90% of people in the kitchen. I found myself wanting something tangible to do with my hands. Nothing made sense to me. I did well in school but it didn’t feel right. It was so wrong on so many levels. I moved to New York and told my mom I wanted to be a cook. I went to school and the thing I liked the best was butchering. The idea of using the whole animal made me feel really grounded.

AB: What was your first job cooking in a restaurant?
ZN: My first job out of cooking school was at Lupa where I trained with Wade who was a butcher. He taught me about sausages, cured meats, butchering chicken and I loved it so much. I kept cooking but it never felt totally right, and then I moved to San Francisco and was working in Jardinière. I was walking down the street and passed Tartine and saw a room full of girls who looked like me, covered in tattoos, making jokes, it seemed more like my community. I had no friends at the time so I went in to see if they’d be my friends and asked if I could work there during the day. Jardinière was at night so I showed up every day and they gave me a job and I loved it.

AB: When did you open your first restaurant? How did you know you were ready to own and not just work for someone else?
Josh Loeb: We opened Rustic Canyon in December 2006, three years ago. Five years earlier I had never worked in a restaurant before. I was working in New York, working in magazines. I was fact checking for Vibe Magazine and others. I came back to Los Angeles trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I started doing dinners for 10-12 people, and everything I did made me want to do it more and more. I did a supper club, for $15 or $25 per person. Even when I first worked in a restaurant I knew I wanted to own one. I grew up in Santa Monica and knew the neighborhood needed a farm fresh place that was casual, not stuffy.

AB: What was the deal? How did you get the money? Do you have partners?
JL: I just talked a lot of crap. I think I had something that people over here wanted and was really cool for this area. Getting partners for the first restaurant was a pain, it was $720,000. Raising money for Huckleberry was easier.

AB: Who are your mentors?
ZN: Liz and Chad, the owners of Tartine, took me under their wing. I learned how to make bread from Chad. They are really rustic. Their philosophy is exactly my philosophy now. They’ve definitely been my grounding lessons in baking. From there, I kept learning and baking. I definitely felt I had learned my thing. They have definitely been the most amazing people I ever worked for. It’s really inspirational for me.
JL: I worked for Bruce Marder, I got to sit in on the manager meetings and he ran a bunch of restaurants that compliment each other. I don’t like the idea of having five of the same [thing]. [He taught me how to] facilitate and maximize labor with multiple places and how you can cross-pollinate them which is easy if you have the right places. Its easy for us, we're all local, we don’t do things that are fussy or fancy. We try to balance the menu with things that are more festive, simple, light, and hearty.

AB: How did you two get together?
JL: Our moms were in book club together and we were both coming off bad relationships. We hired her as a pastry chef. Campanile offered her more money and she was going to take it and I called her 20 times that day and after three months we were dating.
ZN: At that time Josh wasn’t anything to look at! I told him no and he kept calling and calling and calling. I decided I wanted to start something instead of stepping into someone else’s shoes. It’s a real honor to go into Campanile but I wanted to make something. We just clicked right away on a professional level. We just clicked. A few months later he asked me to go to a tango lesson and I moved in like three days later. He’s really amazing and has a really good eye.

AB: How did Huckleberry start?
ZN: I’m not really a pastry chef. I’m more of a baker and I was getting bored as a pastry chef. I thought I could make us money on Saturday morning. I hired my best friend, my dad, Josh and his brother. I showed up at one in the morning and would cook until one in the afternoon. In the first week some people came, then more people and more people and we got write ups even though it was only one day a week. We had lines out the door. We were looking for a bar space and we passed the Huckleberry space and I knew we had to do this. Josh didn’t even hesitate. We signed the lease and we’ve been going since.

AB: What’s next, an ice cream shop?
ZN: Maybe in a few months, it’s been pushed back more. It’s going to be awesome, really fun. We want a bar. We have a list of 15 places we want. Next, have kids and take a vacation.