This is such a wonderfully wacky story that I relish telling it. An extraordinarily talented young (33) female chef, Mette Williams, entered a TV competition on a whim... and won it after many trials. The prize... a job as executive chef at the upscale famous CULINA MODERN ITALIAN at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills (300 S. Doheny Drive, (310) 860-40000). In the finals she competed against three other male chefs on the national Food Network show, Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell. Each week four candidates, presided over by the energetic Burrill, competed for the next step toward the ultimate goal... an executive chef position at a top restaurant. Mette told me that she had been working as executive chef at Areal in Santa Monica when she answered a casting call for the show. " I already had a nice job, so I had nothing to lose." The episode she won over three male contestants was taped several months ago, but the results were kept quiet until the episode premiered last week. Since accepting her new position, she has been working on refining the menu and bringing some new additions to it, which I was able to sample.
Exec Chef Mette William of Culina
But when the hotel's general manager, Mehdi Eftekan, introduced her, she reminded me that we had met before at one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants. Chef Mette had previously worked at Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group establisments including Postrio, Spago Beverly Hills and Cut:
When I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, I went to work at Wolf's Postrio restaurant there. Then he asked me to come to L.A. to work at Spago, which I eagerly accepted. I worked with his partner, Lee Hefter, for five years and eventually became a sous chef at the Beverly Hills restaurant. Then I went to his new steak house, Cut, as executive sous chef, before going to the exclusive Soho House in the same position. I was offered the exec. chef job at Areal before the TV show came along.
I asked her about the future and she laughed and said she was just concentrating on making Culina even more exciting. She has a 17-month-old son named Kai, which means 'ocean' in Hawaiian. (His father, Justin, is a chef/surfer and lived in the islands for awhile.) "When I really retire, I will go home to my family's 130-acre ranch in Kentucky, get a herd of goats and make cheese," she exclaimed.
Journalist Sophie Gayot 'sworded' a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
The hotel's executive chef, Ashley James, sat with me for a moment at dinner in the lush garden and said he was so impressed by Mette's talent and dedication. At which point I was brought a trio of salads from the new menu and dug in. Quinoa, Beets... so fresh and delicious. I tasted whipped sheep's milk ricotta and a drizzle of truffled vinaigrette. I loved her new Zuppetta Di Cozze, with its steamed mussels, roasted tomatoes, fennel and charmoula. Bruschetta di Sardo, with marinated sardines, pickled chili and burrata, and a delicious Polpa all Griglia with octopus, marinated pee wee pottoes, chili, arugula and verde.
Culina offers a large selection of crudo, raw seafood in the Italian style... tuna, Hawaiian yellowtail, salmon, scallops, spiny lobster... and my favorite, Santa Barbara sea urchin. I tasted her poletto with roasted chicken with saffron braised fennel, olives, artichokes,kale and salmoriglio, and a lovely Taggliatta steak, which had a unique and delicious flavor. This restaurant has a unique selection of artisan pizzas, and I did forsake my wheat-free diet for the night to enjoy a few slices of the Pizza Sardo with merguez, roasted peppers and sardo, and Pizza Blanca with kale, roasted garlic, ricotta and pecorino.
Mussels are excellent here, with a savory broth...
...and sliced steak is succulent.
Hotel Executive Chef Ashley James joins in introducing the restaurant's new chef.
Culina is a stunning indoor-outdoor setting in the lobby area of this sophisticated hotel. (Incidentally, I noted that Larry Flint still eats lunch here every day.) Chef Mette is a magnificent chef and charming woman and I intend to revisit regularly to see what she comes up with at one of my favorite dining spots.
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