Thursday, August 18, 2011

New chef focuses menu on local ingredients at West Restaurant & Lounge

Food is something I can always get excited about. As a foodie, I find myself quite fortunate to live in Los Angeles. Nowhere else can I think of where cuisines from all parts of the world are so easily accessible. I can travel the globe on a culinary journey without leaving Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Hotel Angeleno)

In addition to the many flavors available here, Los Angeles is home to talent. Lots and lots of it. One of these talents - a British transplant by way of Chicago - recently arrived to West Restaurant & Lounge at Hotel Angeleno (you know, that round hotel next to the 405?). Executive Chef Mathew Woolf brings with him passion and excitement for good food as West attempts to re-position itself in L.A.'s competitive restaurant scene. It's a tough challenge, but Chef Woolf may be the right solution.

From his humble days as a dishwasher, to cooking at Claridges Hotel and The Ritz in London, to creating artful dishes at Sixteen Restaurant in Chicago, Woolf has an energy about food that is infectious. He admits to not spending enough time at home in his own kitchen, as he spends all his days at West's kitchen. He enjoys L.A.'s tacos and Indian cuisine, but most of all, the Grilled Cheese Truck. To him, cooking is interactive theatre. He'll prepare fresh mozzarella cheese on the spot for his diners.

His appreciation for food and the process of cooking is evident when he talks about going to the farmers' markets and developing relationships with the local farmers. When asked what he likes most about cooking in Los Angeles, he cites the fresh ingredients available to him as well as the sense of community.

"L.A. is a community...The farmers' markets and the farmers - everyone is excited and wants to share and teach. It's great for learning."

It's not just the farmers Woolf is learning from. "Diners are smarter now, and they want to know what they're eating and where their food is coming from," he points out. This kind of challenge is good from his perspective. It keeps him on his toes, constantly inventing and innovating to keep food fun and interesting in a sustainable manner.

In fact, it's his ability to think on his feet that helped him prepare the menu for Thursday's "Sip, Taste and Discover Joel Gott Wines" wine tasting at West.

"Wow, I've got one day [to plan]!" was his first reaction when he was approached for the event. Looking at the menu, you wouldn't know it. Guests at the event will be in for a treat as some of the menu items are brand new. "I've never made them before," Woolf jokes. All joking aside, you can see that he's looking forward to the opportunity and serious about making sure the experience exceeds guests' highest expectations.

It will be no easy task to turn West into one of L.A.'s dining hotspots. Armed with his menu of fresh, light and local fare, his likable personality and passion for his craft, and his desire to teach, learn and evolve may be just what West needs to elevate its dining experience to a whole new level. Of course, the view atop Hotel Angeleno doesn't hurt either.


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