Interview with Chef Neal Fraser of Grace – Los Angeles, CA
March , 2004
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you begin cooking? What sparked your interest?
Neal Fraser: When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time at my friend Ben Ford’s house. His mom, Mary, was an extraordinary cook. She was the first person who I saw cook something more than Hamburger Helper®. Instead, she would cook dishes like braised chicken in a pot and other dishes considered gourmet at the time. I was intrigued.
AB:Who influenced your cooking? Why?
NF: After graduating from culinary school, I externed at Checkers with Thomas Keller. Mark Ferriani and Joachim Splichal were also big influences in my culinary career. I worked for Mark on and off for years; he helped lift my career off the ground.
AB: What is your favorite culinary book? Why?
NF: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. He answers questions that don’t make sense. It’s like a bible and I refer to it often. It has all the answer and I like the scientific layout. Simple Cuisine by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. This was his first book. I like how he uses intense flavors. It’s different than all other cookbooks that came out at the time.
AB: What are your favorite ingredients?
NF: Scallops. They are light and easy to cook without a lot of prep work. They have great flavor too.
AB: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
NF: A fish spatula
AB: What do you look for when interviewing line cooks for your restaurant?
NF: Attitude is the determining factor in how you fit into the puzzle. I run a democratic and open kitchen. I’m not interested in career line cooks. I want those that I can inspire. Once you have your fundamentals, it’s your style that makes the difference.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential line chef?
NF: I don’t have a specific question that I like to ask. I just want to hire people that want to grow. Most of the people in my kitchen right now are greener than most, but I can tell that they are willing to work hard and learn. Right now, the guy who’s working that grill is straight out of culinary school!
AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
NF: Doing what I’m doing now at a higher level and achieving more success.