Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Ori Menashe of Bestia

by Antoinette Bruno
May 2014

Antoinette Bruno: How do you describe your cuisine?
Ori Menashe: Challenging comfort food.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
OM: We don't waste anything at Bestia. When we use carrots we use both the tops and roots. We buy whole animals instead of parts and find a use for everything.

AB: How do you see yourself as a leader?
OM: I want the people that work for me to one day be better than me. My wife (Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis) and I work with our staff every day not just to make the best food for the restaurant, but for themselves. Nothing is more amazing than to see people grow. Every day we try to make the food and service better and better. We also try to make sure we spend time with each person. Everyone in the restaurant is important and family.

AB: How many covers are you doing?
OM: We’re serving 250 per night. We’re barely able to finish service, so we can't do lunch. The first day we opened, we had 140 reservations. We had to close for a day and then reopen. 

AB: Why is an Israeli cooking Italian?
OM: I'm in love with Italian. When I just moved here from Israel as a kid, my dad had a restaurant in Italy, and I loved it. But the first time I went to Italy and had a pizza it was amazing.

I’m very good with numbers, but all the stuff you need to make a restaurant legal here is complicated. In Israel you open a place and that's it. Here you need a lawyer by your side the whole time. Because of the [wood fire in our kitchen], we couldn't put it in the city. Downtown they want business here and want to make it a better place. We opened in two months. 

AB: Why did you start cooking?
OM: Because my dad told me not to. It's a hard life. I finished with the military then went straight to Central America for eight months and went to South America, me and all my friends and went snowboarding in Argentina and Chile. I started cooking in the cabin and my friends told me, you cook better than my mom. I started cooking on that trip, 21 years old. Then I moved here, I came back to go to culinary school at Glendale Community College. I was born here [in L.A.] and my parents owned a French Connection—the clothing company—and I was 8 when I moved to Israel. I knew I wanted to do something with cooking and I didn't want to do it in Israel.

I bought that table for my sister because I forgot to make them a reservation. After dinner my dad hugged me and he cried. I’ve only seen him cry four times. I was so relaxed, no stress, and it was because my parents were here and my dad was cracking jokes the whole time.

I love it here. I'll never move back. It was tough. But then I met my current wife and she made it better. When you're an outsider, you always look for reasons to go back, but I never did. 

AB: What’s in the name?
OM: Bestia means beast in Italian. Not because we cook meat, but mostly because my old chef used to yell “bestia!” which meant you were working like a beast as in not a good job. 

AB: What's the hardest thing you've had to do in your career?
OM: My first serious kitchen job. I quit school because I got this great job at night, it's hard to get into a good restaurant like La Terza—Jason Travi. I worked at two jobs before La Terza and they were kind of like not real. Not as demanding. No set rules. So that was my first professional kitchen. I didn't know the names of all the stuff we used in the kitchen. Basically, the chef almost kicked me out. The sous chef begged him to fire me because I wasn't good enough. The only way I could stay in the kitchen was to help as much as I could. The management wasn't right. They packed the place with too many people. After a year and two months, I became the sous chef.  After that, I left. That was a difficult start. It was me not knowing the right lingo in the kitchen and not being able to blend in at work. It was hard.

AB: What are you most proud of?
OM: I'm most proud of being able to show everyone that I'm good enough.

AB: Where will you be in five years?
OM: I will be here with kids. I want to open some salumi company or something like that.