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FBCE, Motivation and Hatfield’s Restaurant

Tue May 5, 2009

Quinn Hatfield

What do poets and journalists have in common? Unless you’re the talented Amy Scattergood from the L.A. Times, I’d say: not a whole lot. Journalism school ruined my poetry. Wildly lyrical juxtapositions, I learned, had little place in clear communication. I wrote poetry to obfuscate, articles to illuminate. Even when I tried my hand at playfully mixing the two, a la the great Andrei Codrescu, the sentiment fell flat. And since life as a poet offered so few opportunities to make a living that I ended up in j-school in the first place, I knew I needed to find a new muse.

She came dressed at “motivation,” which is funny considering the number of people out there questioning mine in this new era that I’ve taken to referring to as “Post-FBCE” (Food Blog Code of Ethics). Nonetheless, I love finding out what makes people do what they do, to hold their beating hearts up to the world for all to see. Of course, there’s an inherent danger, I think, in trying to understand people’s motivations. If you connect, it draws you closer to the subject, veils your thinking in admiration and skews your writing. If you don’t, it can cast an odd patina on their work, causing you to confuse your dislike of their motivation with what they do.

My objectivity, when it came to the Hatfield’s, was shot long before I met them, long before I ever enjoyed my first meal at their jewel box of a restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, because they were friends of a friend, and because I knew people who worked there. But when Karen and Quinn invited a handful of foodies in to preview their new DIY prix fixe menu pro bono, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t been in because I was under the impression it was beyond my budget (with the new prix fixe, it costs no more than other area restaurants), and the food was well worth the wait. Each dish, from amuse bouche to pillowy beignet, was thoughtfully composed. While we all shared most of what we ordered, I was compelled to hoard my dish like the youngest in a huge, hungry family. It was delicious and it was mine!

After the meal, I wanted so much to write about it, to tell everyone I knew to go eat at Hatfield’s, but wasn’t sure exactly how to share. Then I bumped into Quinn and Karen and their adorable daughter at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market picking through pea tendrils next to me. I asked Quinn a bit about his philosophy on cooking seasonal, local ingredients and his response blew me away. He started talking about being inspired by new ingredients that he found at the market, but also understanding the unique growing conditions where we live. If farmers are able to grow berries, or corn or tomatoes outside of the traditional “season” because of Southern California’s temperate climate, then why not use them, he asked? And use them he does…Last night Quinn twittered, “Early season corn and little tomatoes (both surprisingly good) made their way into an anglioti dish-with dungenous crab-fava beans-hon shimegi…”

And there it was, motivation doing her little dance before me yet again (that vixen). So I emailed Karen and Quinn for some insight into their creative minds about running a restaurant and cooking. Here’s their response. I hope, despite my obvious bias toward them, you give the restaurant a shot. If you love well-prepared, seasonal food accented with a dash of creativity, then Hatfield’s is for you. And the restaurant is small enough, you might get the opportunity to know this dynamic duo a little better too.

The two of you have worked at some of the country’s top restaurants, how different is it running your own?
When you work for amazing Chefs in world class restaurants as a cook, your scope is quite small. You take pride in your station and the work you are responsible for. You try to be perfect all the time, to be a good employee, to make yourself valuable to the chef. As an owner your world becomes all about the guest. You look for ways to make their experience better, how to give them the most and still be successful as a business.

What was your vision when you opened Hatfield’s? How has that evolved over the past few years?
Our vision has always been the same. We wanted to have a restaurant where the food was center stage and we wanted to accompany it with our idea of good service—Friendly and comfortable without ever feeling stuffy.

How did the restaurants that you worked at previously inspire you? Was there one chef’s whose work really spoke to either of you?
I always related to David Bouley’s food and style. I really appreciated how focused on the plate he was. That may seam like a simple concept, but in reality running a restaurant is a hectic job and chefs loose sight of why people are really there. To me the Chef is (or should be) the best cook in the building, and he should be doing as much cooking as possible…

When we ran into each other last week at the farmers market, Quinn, you talked about how you let the market inspire you. Do you mentally prepare dishes as you buy ingredients, or do you get back to the kitchen and then start figuring out how to put it all together? Describe how you work and give a recent example, if you can.
For me there are many ways that creativity works. We could just do this interview on that subject. Sometimes it is just ingredients— sometimes you base everything around a technique or central ingredient, and build out finding things that are in season that accomplish what you want texturally of flavor wise. Sometimes an entire complete perfect dish just pops into your head… Sometimes it is too easy-sometimes you struggle and the dish never comes together.

Karen, how much are your desserts inspired by the market? Same question as above?
Same answer as above… LOL is that lame? People say we share a brain…
Your menu changes frequently. Are there any dishes that you can’t get rid of?
I always have the Croque Madame and the Date and mint crusted lamb on the menu… They are actually two of my earliest dishes and I love them both. It might be hard to get rid of them, but I am not planning on it, so it’s not an issue. It is just important, as a chef, that your signature dishes speak to you.

What ingredients have you really fired up right now?
I got into this weird Oatmeal thing, based on cooking for my daughter… I ended up doing a dish with octopus, Oat Groats (un-milled oatmeal), and making a crisp out of overcooked rolled oats. The oatmeal crisp is one of my favorite elements in our kitchen.

How much do you talk to the farmers you buy from? Have you ever asked them to grow something specific for you?
I have a good relation with many of them… I like to let them do what they do—I like the mystery/seasonal property of cooking and using what is available—so no I haven’t placed any special orders.

How is cooking in a restaurant different in Los Angeles than in New York or San Francisco? What are the benefits? The downsides?
I think S.F. and N.Y.C. restaurants capitalize heavily on tourists, less so in Los Angeles. This leads to a slightly heavier reliance on regulars and it makes it harder to take advantage of early and late seatings. From a business standpoint I think that makes L.A. a harder place to be a restaurateur. As far as diners I find that they are similar, in this time, in big cities, people are pretty food/wine savvy.

Your wine list has a lot of international values as opposed to the usual suspects. How do you choose the wines on your list? Do you have a favorite right now?
We use the same approach to our wine list as our menu, small and interesting. Exceptional wines, good value, and accompanies the food perfectly.

Anything new on the horizon that Hatfield’s fans would be excited to learn?
As usual, we just keep doing what we do… I know that is not the big scoop, but for us it is not so much about re-inventing ourselves, its about evolving and getting better without loosing sight of the original course. We always want to hold on to what made people love Hatfield’s in the first place.

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4 Responses to “FBCE, Motivation and Hatfield’s Restaurant”

  1. foodwoolf Says:

    And what a beautiful dance indeed.

    Great way to talk about all of it and some of it in one perfect piece. Love it.

  2. Steve Says:

    It’s very interesting to hear the Hatfields talk about their craft, the business, etc. I absolutely adore their food, thoughtfulness and integrity, their style of service, wines, and of course, their matchless desserts. Everything they say in your interview is embodied by Hatfield’s the restaurant. It’s such a privilege to live a block away.

  3. Juney Says:

    What a window into the souls of two extremely talented and hard-working chefs! It’s been a while since I’ve gone (due to “economic concerns”) but I should bite the bullet and have dinner there again soon. The last time I went it was for my anniversary and the tandem tasting menu is something I will not soon forget.

    Their answer to the last question is why I find Hatfield’s (both the people and the restaurant) so special – they want to maintain what makes them who they are, and this is why I think everyone who eats their food and understands their point of view vouch for them so heavily.

  4. Charles Thompson Says:

    Thank you for a great post. I stumbled across your blog and saw this entry about Hatfield’s – and I am going for the first time this weekend. Have known about them and the restaurant for some time now but haven’t made it in yet. Now I’m even more excited to go…

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