Chef David Lentz of Hungry Cat - Los Angeles Rising Star on

Photo Credit: Jon Deshler

David Lentz
Hungry Cat
1555 N. Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90082
(323) 462-2155

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Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
David Lentz: I always enjoyed cooking when I was growing up, but kind of stumbled upon it when I was 19. I was a drama major in college and that fell through, so I decided to take some classes at a culinary school, then I fell in love with it. From the moment I began in professional kitchens I realized that I wanted to be a chef. I really love the whole lifestyle. The biggest reason though is that it doesn’t seem like work.

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David Lentz
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 it.

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Interview Cont'd
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 it.

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 kitchen tool?
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 la minute.

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 cookbook?
DL: Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
DL: New York and any city in Asia.

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 every night.



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   Published: May 2006