Interview with Chef Jason Travi of La Terza - Los Angeles, CA

May 16

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Jason Travi: My whole family inspired me to be a chef. My grandfather, my dad, and three of my uncles were all chefs.

AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JT: I went to The Culinary Institute of America. I don’t recommend culinary schools today. You can work in a proper restaurant and learn everything you would learn in school and more, and get paid along the way instead of paying. I learned a lot from school but the price no longer makes sense.

AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
JT: Lee Hefter of Spago. He taught me how to motivate people. Gino Angelini taught me how to teach.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JT: I’m all about the products you can get. If a product isn’t great, then you need to adapt.

AB: Are there any special ingredients that you especially like?
JT: Radishes – I love the depth of flavor.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
JT: My fish spatula. It’s more versatile than its name. I use it for everything.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JT: Are you going to show up after you’ve been up drinking ‘til 4 am and you’re hung-over? How dedicated will you be?

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JT: Be very selective in picking restaurants to work in. Don’t just pick based on the pay because, usually, they’re not where you need to be.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JT: Visually, I like Michel Bras’ cookbook. For utilization, I like Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It interviews all these famous chefs. It asks them what their favorite ingredients are, what goes with what, and it has interviews and signature dishes. And Sicilian by Carlo Middione. It helps you realize how things are really done in Italy.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
JT: New York. It seems that the whole dining population there is interested in the dining experience. Also, Tokyo has amazing food and culture and it re-works other countries’ food.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in LA?
JT: Nozawa, a Japanese sushi restaurant that has the best sushi in LA. Sunnin is a Lebanese cafe with plastic plates and paper cups, but for $15 you can really eat. Sanbousek has a great pastry dough. And Angelini Osteria is my favorite.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JT: I see a food revolution. Sous vide really makes a lot of sense in terms of ease of cooking.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
JT: Owning a restaurant with my wife.