In real life, Alex Reznik is bold, brash, and cocky -- just like he seemed on Season 7 of Top Chef: Washington D.C. But as executive chef of La Seine, a kosher restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, he also has the zeal of the newly converted and is eager to impress. While preparing his kitchen for dinner service last Wednesday, he pointed out to the Huffington Post the mezuzah that marks the entrance of the kitchen, the different deep fryers for meat and fish, and Rabbi Ariel Benzaquen, the young mashgiach who vigilantly watches over the kashrut status of the kitchen.
Reznik doesn't keep Kosher himself, but acknowledges that he has more freedom at La Seine than his previous post at Café Was in Hollywood -- despite the kashrut law restrictions. Reznik explains: "Café Was is a great restaurant with a wonderful owner. But the clientele was very Hollywood, so they just come in and want to have a burger. They didn't want to have creative, new stuff. And every time I wanted to implement something creative, the owner would always be like, 'well, that's not what our guests want.' So I moved on." Soon after returning to Los Angeles from "Top Chef," Reznik put his notice in at Café Was and did short stints at Test Kitchen collaborating with other chefs. When restaurateur Laurent Masliah approached him about opening up a kosher restaurant in Beverly Hills, Reznik was skeptical at first, and to this day calls its Sabbath hours a "flawed business model." But the chef took a leap of faith and is happy to see his work embraced by the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles.
Alex Reznik looks at the clock and boasts, "Time me. See how long it takes for me to make the matzoh." At 6:07 p.m., he walks over to the cuisinart stand mixer and makes the dough.
Then it's over to the plating station where he quickly rolls it out, runs a docker across the surface, and throws it in the oven.
By 6:13 p.m. he's offering everyone in the kitchen some matzoh bread. "Didn't I tell you I was fast?"
Instead of bread service, La Seine offers all dinner guests a plate of housemade matzoh bread with a dipping sauce of olive oil, herbs, and garlic.
The restaurant is meat kosher, which means Reznik doesn't serve any dairy, pork and shellfish. Vegetables have to be cleaned thoroughly, seafood and meat must be sourced from kosher providers, and mashgiach Rabbi Ariel Benzaquen is the only one who can flip the switches and fire up pilot lights. Not to mention the sabbath hours -- La Seine shuts down from Friday evening to Saturday evening and will be closed for nine days during this year's Passover.
General manager Jacob Shure kisses the mezuzah at the entrance of the kitchen.
Sous chef Oscar Fonseca prepares cuts of veal belly, the restaurant's answer to the pork belly trend.
Sushi Chef Shin Ishida mans the sushi bar at La Seine. He comes by way of Katsuya Restaurant.
Selection of Contemporary and Classic Nigiri, La Seine Roll, and Beverly Hills Roll.
Roasted Bone Marrow with Herb Gremolata, Apricot Mustarda, Corned Beef Tongue, Crostini, Cornichon, Sweetbread Nugget.
Hamachi Crudo, Toasted Brioche, Wasabi Bernaise, Quail Egg, Sweet Soy
Spinach Fettucine, Bottarga, Violet Artichokes, Spring Onion, Stinging Nettles.
Japanese Inspired Ceviche, Big Eye Tuna, Hamachi, Albacore, Avocado, Red Onion, Kumquat, Fresh Yuzu
Halibut, Lentils, Fava Beans, Fiddlehead Fern, Roasted Tomato Chutney, Herb Salad
Wild Striped Bass, Red Quinoa, Pomegranate, Salmon Roe, Yellow Bell Pepper, Fennel Pollen, Shitake-Lemongrass Consommé.
Veal Belly, Pee Wee Potatoes, Pearl Onions, Baby Carrots, Asian Pear, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Black Cherries, Veal Jus, Celery Leaf.
Duo of Beef, Rib Cap and Eye of Rib, Wild Rice, Sundried Tomatoes, Lemon Confit, Horseradish, Bordelaise Sauce, Asparagus, Hon-Shimeji Mushrooms. The tips of the asparagus have been cut off to guard against any non-kosher insects that could be hiding.
Cucumber Jalapeno Granita, Asian Pear, Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Cara Cara Oranges.
Chocolate Soufflé, Espresso Anglais, Green Tea Ice Cream.
Reznik spoke to HuffPost L.A. about life after "Top Chef."
On this season's "Top Chef All Stars":
I've met a lot of these chefs, and they're very very talented. Let's be honest -- I'd be scared.
On the food scene in Los Angeles:
I think people are opening up to new food experiences and going to restaurants like Animal, Hatfield's and Eva -- these are all foodie-driven restaurants. In the past, people were just happy going to The Ivy and calling it a day. But now we're becoming a foodie city, like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. We still have a long way to go, but I think we're getting there.
On the best thing about Los Angeles:
I really like the people here. They're laid back. It's not like New York City, where every day is planned, planned, planned. Here, it's like "what are you doing tonight? I don't know, let's figure it out."
On the worst thing about Los Angeles:
We don't have any street food. Here, we call the trucks "street food." I don't want to eat out of a truck! I want to eat out of a restaurant. But I want it to be like in New York City, where on every corner there'll be a pizza joint or a sandwich place. Here, I have to go to Bay Cities to get a decent sandwich. I have to drive to Umami to get a decent burger. Here on the corner, it's a Johnny Rockets or a Baja Fresh or a McDonalds, instead of a burger place by so-and-so.
On being a non-kosher chef at a kosher restaurant:
I'm a Jew first, and I'm a chef as a profession. I don't have to keep Kosher in order to understand Kosher food. I have to sample all foods. Do I eat lobster and shellfish? No, because I'm allergic to it. But I do love pork -- that's honest. But I don't bring it in to the restaurant and I think my guests really understand what they're having is completely kosher.
On La Seine's Sabbath Hours:
It's definitely a flawed business model. There's no question about it. I was very hesitant and had a lot of trepidation when [owner] Laurent asked me to join this project. How can a restaurant be closed on Friday nights and most of Saturday? We open up for like one turn on a Saturday night. Where's the profitability?
On what inspires him at La Seine:
It's really driven by produce and seasonality, and it's all contemporary. You're not going to find a corned beef sandwich or matzo ball soup here. Right now I'm doing an Alaskan halibut with fiddlehead ferns, sitting on some stinging nettles. It's really seasonal.
The restaurant's going to be closed for nine days, which again is part of a flawed business model. Have you ever heard of a restaurant closing for nine days? I'm either going to go home and visit my family in New York or maybe pick up a little side gig.
On his roots:
When Laurent approached me, I felt like maybe this was the right move. It'd bring me back to my Jewish roots, a little bit of my heritage. I'm not just cooking, I'm giving back. For a lot of the guests that come here, they've been eating just kosher food their whole life. At all the other kosher restaurants, they wrote the menu fifteen years ago and that's it. I don't do that. Every day, we have a new idea, a new special, a new concept.
On being a celeb chef in LA:
One of the downsides is that people are hating. They say, "you were on the show, and that's why people know you." But I went on the show to compete, to try to win some money, to have some fun, to really challenge myself. I didn't go to be a celebrity chef.
As far as upsides, when I go out to dinner sometimes I get a little hook up. But I think that's just chef love, a chef loving on another chef.
On his favorite food:
It's gotta be a burger. I love a burger. One of the best burgers I've ever had is the Umami pastrami burger. I went to Go Burger last week, and I had this burger that reminds me of a New Jersey place called White Manna -- the best burger place in the whole country. I'll make a statement right now: White Manna in Hackensack is the best burger joint in the whole world.
On being a nice guy:
I think I'm an asshole. I'm not going to lie -- I actually think I'm an asshole. If I met me, I'd think I was an asshole.