Last week saw the opening of Red Medicine, a take on Vietnamese comfort food by Chef Jordan Kahn and partners Noah Ellis and Adam Fleischman (of the Umami Burgers chain). While the three principals can't claim to have grown up clinging to their Vietnamese mother's apron strings (their manifesto disclaims, "We are not Vietnamese. We're not even Asian. Not even close."), their dishes are inspired by the Vietnamese food they craved, after-hours, while working in the restaurant industry.
Chef Jordan Kahn is an acclaimed pastry chef and has worked at Per Se, Alinea, and Michael Mina. Managing partner Noah Ellis oversaw restaurant openings for the Mina Group (the Bourbon Steak restaurants, XIV in Los Angeles, and American Fish in Las Vegas). Partner Adam Fleischman is the owner of the Umami Burger chain in Los Angeles. We caught up with all three of them over e-mail to chat about their latest venture:
AA: Jordan, you're a renowned pastry chef and you've worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country. How has the transition been from focusing mostly on desserts to leading the entire kitchen on all aspect of the meal? What inspires you when you create?
JK: In the past I've always included myself in the overall management of the entire kitchen, so the "transition" doesn't exactly feel much different. The main difference is now instead of smelling like ice cream and chocolate when I go home at night, I smell like grilled fish and cilantro.
I get inspired when I read about or eat a Vietnamese dish that to me seems very foreign and unusual in composition. I become fascinated in realizing that I still know so little about cuisine on a global scale. This cuisine excites me in a way that reminds me of how I construct my desserts. There are a lot of flavors and a lot of components in each dish that may seem like odd combinations, but instead of being overloaded by flavors or palate-confusion, there is a unique harmony.
AA: Noah, there's a bit of a defensive tone in your manifesto when you say, "This is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. We are not Vietnamese. Hell, we've never even been to Vietnam!" At the same time, there's an obvious reverence for the culture and the cuisine in both your manifesto and the food. Did you run into some resistance or opposition when you first started pitching the restaurant idea to others?
NE: I think we were being proactive--we figured that a couple of white guys who love the food but really have no grounding in it would get beat up by the food paparazzi and Yelpers for trying to recreate it. What better way to do that then coming right out and saying it?
AA: Adam, what are the common themes that connect Umami Burger to your newest venture, Red Medicine? What can your Umami fans expect if they visit your new restaurant?
AF: I would say the connections for me lie mainly in the fact that Red Medicine is a casual spot that intends to over-deliver, as the Umamis strive to. Umami fans can expect a spot that is casual, but not too casual for a date or a celebration. Food-wise, the Umami flavors are well represented in Chef Kahn's incredible layering of flavors and use of Asian ingredients.