2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga of Hart and the Hunter

2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga of Hart and the Hunter
May 2014

Kris Tominaga’s family didn’t understand the “cooking thing,” so instead of pursuing a life on the line, the California native went to business school with plans to open his own restaurant. But the call of the kitchen was strong. While working at a bar, Tominaga filled in for an absentee cook and never looked back. He eventually found his way to the East Coast and Boston’s L’Espalier, where he worked with Chef Frank McClelland and StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef James Hackney. 

Brian Dunsmoor attended culinary school in Charleston, South Carolina, and then “regular” college in Athens, Georgia. But when a professor asked Dunsmoor why he quit cooking, he didn’t have an answer. Dunsmoor traded in books for knives and landed a job at StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Hugh Acheson’s 5&10.

Next up, Dunsmoor moved cross country to Los Angeles, manning the hot line at Providence for a year, followed by a post at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice. It was at Joe’s that Dunsmoor and Tominaga first met, and a few years and a few jobs later they reunited to open pop-up restaurant Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Tominaga brought the California fresh, and Dunsmoor the Southern soul.

The Wolf turned into The Hart and The Hunter at Palihotel Melrose, where the duo sells down-home Southern goodness made on camping burners, an electric oven, and a back-yard grill. As they continue to sate L.A.’s biscuit and grilled oyster cravings, Dunsmoor and Tominaga are expanding their reach with Dunsmoor executive chef-ing at The Ladies Gunboat Society and Tominaga at SaMo.

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Why: We do fundraising dinners with Alex’s Lemonade Stand because they work hard for a great cause.

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Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga of The Hart and the Hunter

Antoinette Bruno: Was food an important part of your childhood?
Brian Dunsmoor: I grew up in a small town just outside of Atlanta called Snellville. I came from a family of Colorado cattle ranchers and corn farmers on my mother’s side. I spent almost every summer trouble-making in their prairies. I imagine that’s why I enjoy working with local farmers and ranchers. I know about the amount of hard work that goes into raising a great product. When we weren’t spending time in Colorado, we’d make the short drive to the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola to be exact, to spend time with our other side of the family. This is where I developed my love for Gulf seafood. Boils full of blue crab, Gulf shrimp, crawfish, and hearty oysters from Joe Patti’s Seafood Market. I think that’s what made me want to start cooking, whether I knew it or not.

AB: How did you get your start?
Kris Tominaga: I was in college and going to business school. I always wanted to open a restaurant, but I didn't know I wanted to be a chef. I worked in a bar and the cook didn't show up and I stepped up into the kitchen. I really liked it, the high of it. There's a certain high to it, and finesse.

BD: After graduating high school I decided to go to culinary school in Charleston because I had no real desire to go to regular college. After half-assing my way through two years of classes, I moved to Athens, Georgia, to attend regular college. Why? I don’t know. After half-assing my way through some classes there, I had a teacher ask me why I quit cooking. I didn’t have an answer. I immediately dropped out and applied for a job at Hugh Acheson’s 5&10 restaurant. After that, I was all in! If I landed a job at a different restaurant, who knows if I would still be cooking today. I worked closely with Hugh for the next two years, learning about Southern cooking. After a trip to Los Angeles, I decided I wanted to move and pursue fine dining in California. The last thing Hugh told me before I left was “most chefs are insecure ass-holes, don’t be that!” I’ve carried that with me through the rest of my career.

AB: Who's your mentor?
KT: James Hackney. I cooked with him at L’Espalier in Boston. The most important thing I learned from him is finesse, and execution, learning how to cook with your palate.

BD: Hugh Acheson. We didn't use any recipes at 5&10. I learned how to run a kitchen without being a complete jerk. That’s how we try to run our kitchen—you don't have to have a massive ego. We're cooking food, and people have been doing this for a long time—really well for a long time.

AB: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
KT: Los Angeles is a big town that's actually really small. It's a bunch of small towns. You get to know everybody and we're all pretty supportive of each other. We have chefs come in all the time from other restaurants. The farmers market is like a recess for chefs. We get to know everybody there; there’s a little bit of horseplay. Everybody has the philanthropy they support. We have a lot, and we get other chefs to back them up. We have a dinner coming up for Edible Community Garden. We do those because we have chef friends. Only, now, it’s just a question of having the means to donate time and food. In the future we want to do more and more. It's personally satisfying to be able to do that sort of thing. 

AB: What’s your five-year plan?
KT: We want to expand and have a couple of concepts; to stay successful as far as restaurants. We have a bit of longevity, and we also don't want to just stay doing one thing. We want to have a couple of small things, and still be stoked on food in five years. 

BD: Basically, to stick to our guns and continue doing small passion projects. To work for the food rather than the money. We have a lot of specific ideas: a meat and three, a raw bar. The best part about the oyster concept is the small space—we like that. I would like to just do a raw bar. Now I‘ve opened a solo project called The Ladies Gunboat Society, which will be serving super seasonal Southern cuisine in West L.A.! Thank you Los Angeles!!! 

AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve done in your career so far?
KT: Firing one of my best friends; he cried. The thing about working in kitchens, you work with a small group of people for 60 hours per week. We're not saving the world, there's nothing so hard about cooking.

BD: The way we do it here. We hire a lot of people we really trust and our friends, but sometimes you just have to fire them.  

AB: What’s your proudest accomplishment?
KT: I went to school for business, and my family didn't understand the cooking thing. It took a long time for them to see. The first time my mom called me, she said she saw my picture in the newspaper, and it was amazing. 

BD: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. We put everything on the line for that, with the goal of this [The Hart and the Hunter]. With luck and a lot of hard work we're here. The most recent accomplishment was to be open for a year and successful. 

AB: How is it working with a chef-partner?
KT: We collaborate on everything. For a while, we were both here all day, every day for about two years. And then we started to pick up stronger support staff that can lead, when one of us isn't here. It’s about being able to do both things but playing off the strengths and weaknesses of each other. We're over the hump.