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Chef Speak: Christopher Phelps and Zachary Walters

Posted: 05/18/2011 12:00 pm

In this culinary era of wasabi foams and mozzarella spheres, there's something comforting about straight up, non-fussy fare. Suddenly, we've reached a point where a pork chop can be a thrilling item to see on a menu. Especially if that menu is written on a chalkboard at West Hollywood's cozy neighborhood restaurant Salt's Cure. Although they eventually hoped to open a restaurant, owners and chefs Christopher Phelps and Zachary Walters initially planned to launch Salt's Cure as a sustainable butcher shop. But as they got rolling, the two (who met while working at The Hungry Cat) discovered that their long term plan might be more achievable than they thought. They opened their intimate West Hollywood restaurant in August of 2010 with a focus on classic American food done right: simple dishes made with good quality California-sourced ingredients. Now, the butcher shop will come later.

Open for lunch, dinner and a stellar weekend brunch, Phelps and Walters' commitment to the craft of homemade food shines through in every dish. They offer a rotating selection of house smoked fish and cured meats and a must-eat pickle plate topped with a pretzel. Regular menu items include a juicy bacon cheeseburger and the aforementioned perfectly prepared pork chop (vegetarians beware: these guys wanted to open a butcher shop, remember?) As good as the chefs are at lunch and dinner, brunch is the star here. Between buttery Oatmeal Griddlecakes, pastry chef Naomi Shim's phenomenal pastries and the devilish 2x2x2 (that's two eggs, two strips of bacon, two chorizo sausage patties and flaky biscuits, in case you were wondering), it's hard to make a wrong step. We chatted with Phelps and Walters about cooking the food that they love in Los Angeles, and even got them to share the recipe for their most popular brunch item. You guessed it: the 2x2x2.

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Salt's Cure, 7494 Santa Monica Boulevard at N. Vista St. (Photo: Alex de Cordoba)
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Heather Taylor: Describe the style of food you serve at Salt's Cure?

Christopher Phelps: It's simple American food carried out meticulously.

Zachary Walters: At Salt's Cure we are dedicated to being California-centric. We very specifically use only California cheeses, wines, beers, and ingredients. Hell, you can't even have a mimosa on the weekend without using a California sparkling wine!

HT: Have you always loved food?

CP: When I was 16, I began working at a restaurant in Baltimore called the Oregon Grille. It happened to be a really good restaurant. I saw food at its peak, and that made me love it. I worked there for five years.

ZW: Food for me is not so much about being my passion as it is the muse for which my passion was sparked. All of my memories lay in the foods and drinks I have consumed at various points of my life. My relationship with food is something innate and unconditional.

HT: What about Los Angeles inspires your cooking?

ZW: The very idea of Los Angeles and the reason why people live here inspires me. Things are really only "over here" on your own terms -- which is really what sets us apart from a lot of other cities. Sure, some people may believe that just makes us more self-centered and materialistic but I think that we live in a desert made of lights filled with individuals from all walks of life who truly believe in their dreams. On one corner there's the possibility of the dream being made and on the other corner it might not necessarily ever come true. To survive in LA means you have to actually survive and it's this tenacity and strength of its people's will that is both admirable and inspiring. That, and the damn weather.

HT: Other than Salt's Cure, what are some of your favorite restaurants in the city?

CP: I eat at Mozza, Ammo, Loteria Grill and Kiriko -- because I know I'm always going to get a great meal. At Mozza, I like to order the Tuesday dinner special: the duck leg over lentils. The shellfish dishes at Ammo are always comforting. I get breakfast at Loteria Grill at the Third Street Farmers' Market two to four times a week, either the huevos rancheros with salsa morita or I rotate on the burritos. I order one omakase a month at Kiriko, and it satisfies my healthy seafood intake -- the monkfish liver is just super.

HT: Something I love about Salt's Cure is that on a daily basis you offer a few (maybe a dozen) dishes that you do really well. And many of the menu items change daily. Can you describe your process for creating new dishes?

ZW: Our work here begins and ends with the animal. We work around the animal and we get to know it. It's quite literally an intimate experience. We know exactly what we're doing with each part of the animal by the time it arrives in our kitchen. A lot of our dishes take some time to reach the plate, so knowing what each part stands for and what to do with each piece beforehand definitely helps. Also, keeping the menu simple provides the guests with the best possible experience -- they're going to come back for a certain dish if that dish is prepared the way they like it, the same way, every time. It's the comfort of the memory that keeps on giving.

HT: What's a seasonal ingredient that you're excited about and what's simple way you like to prepare it?

CP: I've been really missing lamb. Our farmer hasn't had any lamb all winter, but now the spring lamb is finally here. It still has nice fat from the winter, and I think it goes swimmingly with peas and mint. I take the leg of lamb and rub it with garlic. I slow-roast it and make a light-pan gravy to pour over the sliced lamb, warm peas and mint.

HT: And finally, please tell us about the recipe you've decided to share today.

CP: Our 2x2x2, which we call "The Regular," is our most popular brunch dish. It includes two eggs, two strips of house-cured bacon and two sausage patties. The meat for the patties vary, but the chorizo sausage is one of our favorites.


RECIPE


Salt's Cure Chorizo Sausage Patties

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs of pork shoulder
5 cloves of garlic (smashed)
1 tbsp fresh oregano (chopped)
1 tbsp salt
4 dried Ancho chilies
3 dried cayenne chilies
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Toast the chilies and seeds for 15-25 minutes until the chilis are almost black. Let cool and empty the seeds out of the chilies. Grind the chilies, cumin and coriander.
Cut the pork shoulder into one-inch cubes.
Mix the pork with the salt, garlic, ground chili mix and oregano. Cover tight with plastic and let sit overnight.
Put the marinated pork in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until barely combined.
Mix on slow while pouring the red wine vinegar into the mix.
Mix until combined.
Form into golf ball-sized patties and press the center.
Heat a pan on a medium flame and cook the patties on each side for four to six minutes.
Check the center to make sure it's done. We like ours medium.


Salt's Cure
7494 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046-5648
(323) 850-7258

Chef Speak is a bi-monthly column by LA-enthusiast Heather Taylor in which she explores LA's diverse and dynamic food culture, featuring interviews with Angeleno chefs of-the-moment, seasonal recipes, and rising restaurants.

 

Follow Heather Taylor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/heatherbethtay