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LA Chef David Bartnes recreating memories in Los Angeles at b.o.s. - Pt 2

Chef David Bartnes at b.o.s.
Chef David Bartnes at b.o.s.
Image courtesy of SHGfoto

Second part of 2 parts, please start here with Part 1

Chef David Bartnes at b.o.s.
Image courtesy of SHGfoto

Now living in Los Angeles, b.o.s. Chef David Bartnes spent a short time in a restaurant in West Hollywood before, at his wife's insistence, taking a job in a hotel kitchen. With a baby on the way, taking the CDC position at Sai Sai Restaurant in the Biltmore Hotel was a more secure and smart move to make at that time. David succeeded Ricardo Zarate, so he had some pretty big shoes to fill. But still it was a hotel restaurant, which in Los Angeles would never be as popular as a stand‐alone location. (As an aside, in most of Asia it's different, it is very common for people to go to a hotel for a fancier dining experience).

Chef Bartnes really enjoyed this job particularly the structure like costing food a specific way. He stayed in this position for almost four years until one of his bosses left to go work at the Marriot Hotel, and then subsequently offered David the executive chef position there. It was a large step up for him to run an entire hotel. So he went. This position was again about process. It was very structured. You had to stay within the guidelines. There wasn't a huge amount of culinary freedom. During the year and a half to two years, Chef Bartnes was working at the Marriot he was also going through his divorce. With the divorce obviously came a lot of soul searching. So, needing a lot of change in lifestyle, David left his position at the Marriot even though he wasn't sure what he wanted to do.

Despite his aspiration to be in the service industry as a seven year old, David decided that hotel kitchens weren't for him anymore. Chef Bartnes was on the verge of starting a personal chef business when he started to work on the TV show The Taste as a member of the culinary production team where he created all the judges dishes that are presented on TV to the contestants for inspiration. While working on The Taste, he got a call from his ex‐wife. A friend from Shanghai now lived in LA and that friend's husband was opening a restaurant. So David gave her friend's husband, Jun Isogai, a call and then shortly thereafter met him for a cup of coffee. After discussing the concept with Jun, David was on board at b.o.s. as the chef.

Other than giving Chef Bartnes a protein locally of sustainably raised grass fed beef (from places like BN Ranch and Strauss Family Farms) to work with, Jun gave David carte blanche to do what he wanted with the menu. So for the first time in his career David put together a menu that reflected who he is now by drawing upon all the places he has lived, travelled and worked for inspiration. There are a lot of theories behind why Bartnes likes to use certain ingredients but overall his food and menu comes down to the flavors, smells and spices he's experienced living in so many different places. A lot of his influences come from watching people, hanging out eating the food, and living life as local as possible. He wasn't living in a shack but he had local friends who would show him their lives so it was just part of growing up or working somewhere. Now in many of his dishes he's attempting to recreate memories from all of these places taking certain elements of something he had somewhere and then adding it to other ingredients he has available. With this freedom Jun has given him to create at b.o.s, the restaurant continues to help David's own style of cuisine evolve.

The "Sizzling Thai Tongue", for example, is a dish currently on David menu that started off as something of a mistake. He sliced the tongue a little bit too thick for another dish the Tongue Carpaccio, so he grabbed a pan and sautéed it. When he did this the tongue reminded him of these smells he had experienced in Thailand, so automatically the concept for this new dish came to him. He grabbed a little celery, a lot of cilantro, this and this and this and put it all together in the dish. The aroma that was coming off was exactly like the aroma of a dish he ate in Thailand and brought him back to that moment in his life. The sauce on this dish comes from a Northern Thai province Isaan where it used at street stands where they are grilling with charcoal. In Isaan, the food includes a lot of pork, and catfish. Plus they eat a lot of insects. David is in love with the way they do pork. The pork is just char grilled after being marinated with lime and chilies. They dip all their meat, as well as their sticky rice, into this marinade. So David knew he had to use it since next to kimchi that marinade is his second most favorite thing to eat in the world.

The "Grilled Miso Heart" on the menu was inspired by the miso marinated black cod he had been doing at Sai Sai at the Biltmore Hotel where he was further developing his Japanese repertoire. Once at b.o.s., he looked at the heart and wondered what he could do with a beef heart that would be suitable for the restaurant's neighborhood in Little Tokyo. So Chef Bartnes decided to see what happens when he marinated the heart in the same manner as the classic Miso Cod. After letting the heart sit in this marinade, he cooked it and really liked the result. The Heart being very lean muscle, David thought to allow the meat to marinate for at least 3 days to allow the marinade to fully penetrate the meat. He cooks the heart on a binchotan grill. He didn’t want a smoky flavor but yet wanted a char to accompany the flavors and this grill really helps the marinade settle, plus imbue its complexity into the meat. The heart is cooked rare due to how lean the protein is and over cooking renders it to be tough. According to David "...delivering the heart in a rare fashion you’re getting the heart, the essence of an animal."

The "Crispy Curried Calf Brain" is a play on textures. This dish is also trying to make an organ like the brain accessible. David used a panko crust as he wanted something crispy to counter balance the softness of the brain. Plus deep frying the brain delivers the brain in such a fashion so that when a customer sees it on a plate, he or she isn't grossed out from seeing all the veins and sections of the brain. The brain is also a bland organ so Chef Bartnes gives it a nice dusting of curry powder. David has always been intrigued by stories from the Spice Routes through Asia and North Africa, so he likes his spice. David then wanted a sweet but subtle accompaniment for the dish. When he did this he recalled working with British chef on The Taste Yotam Ottolenghi who had David make a vegetarian squash dish with a variety of spices in it. David loved this dish. He adapted it into a butternut squash puree to provide something vibrant with the right level of sweetness and a nice pop of color as a component on the plate. Finally he wanted an earthy grassy element so he also added an arugula puree. The whole dish with all of these spices and components started to remind him of Moroccan cuisine like tagines. This reminded David of one of his best friends who is half Sicilian and half Moroccan. His friend made this great tagine with spices and very contrasting flavors. David uses cassia bark in the dish which he believes pulls the entire dish together. David considers this dish to be one of the more adventurous dishes he has done thus far.

In general though Chef Bartnes doesn't look at any particular food from his experiences for inspiration. Rather the plates he conceives are an amalgamation of those experiences. Some of those experiences involve street food, rustic European dishes, backyard barbecues, and even his mother’s home cooking. So for him when faced with an ingredient, it sparks some sort of memory. It's not like he's trying to make a new dish. Instead he's trying to utilize this ingredient to tell his story of who he is.

Now at a small restaurant like b.o.s. he feels at home, and in the time the restaurant has been open he has been humbled by the way guests have enjoyed his cuisine. b.o.s. is located in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles. They are located at 424 E. 2nd St. Los Angeles, CA 90012 and are open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm. Please follow the restaurant on twitter and on facebook. Call 213.700.7834 or email info@bos‐ the restaurant for reservations. Walk‐ins are welcome.

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