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Exceptional LA Chef Aaron Robbins Tell How He Got Started in the Kitchen

Written By: Travis West Culinary Lab Chef Aaron Robbins Shares His Inspirations
Photographed By: Olivia Bush

The professional life of a chef is filled with pressure, passion and painstaking attention to detail. Those qualities together will produce chefs like Chef Aaron Robbins, the director of culinary operations for Culinary Lab.

A chef’s life at home, however, is a complete turnaround from their work lives in the kitchen. Robbins trades in pressure for relaxation and his chopping knives for baby spoons. Other than baking a soufflé or preparing coq au vin for hungry restaurant patrons, chefs are just like the rest of us.

The real culinary experience is not only being in awe of the dish, but tasting each individual ingredient with an appreciation for the techniques used. Away from bustling servers and the rush to complete an order, chefs can do just that. At home they’re able to take their time while cooking and savor every step.

 

The Expert: Aaron Robbins, director of culinary operations for Culinary Lab
Dish made: Potato-crusted local seabass, orzo, hen of the wood mushrooms, English peas and roasted crosnes with a curried carrot emulsion.

When he isn’t creating a new menu as the Director of Culinary Operations for Culinary Lab, Chef Aaron Robbins can be found at home gardening or preparing meals for his wife and baby. Similar to Gresik, Robbins prefers fish because of the many flavors and ways it can be prepared. Admittedly, Robbins has had to make more baby-friendly foods, but enjoys the time spent doing so with his wife.

With a garden readily available in his backyard, Robbins hopes to one day show his daughter the importance of food and teach her where it comes from and how to appreciate the process from seed to plate. The real experience is not being in awe of the dish, but being able to taste each individual ingredient with an appreciation for the techniques used.

Q: What got you into cooking? Was it something you grew up with?
Aaron Robbins: I started at a young age cooking alongside my mom. I just grew a love for it and in high school I joined a catering program. I used to be an artist working with clay and painting and I love the idea of painting your canvas on the plate. From there I just started working in restaurants and worked my way through the ranks.

Q: Your wife was telling me you grew up in Eugene, Oregon. How did living there influence your cooking?
AR: There are a lot of farmers’ markets there and organic produce. I just grew up working in kitchens there and once I came here at 18, I enrolled in culinary school.

Q: What’s your daily routine like? I know a lot of chefs spend their days picking produce and preparing for service.
AR: Right now as the director of culinary operations for Culinary Lab, I’m doing a lot of ordering. The restaurants we oversee are Hinoki & The Bird, 33 Taps, Pizzeria Ortica and Lost Property. We have multiple vendors and I’m always trying to get the best ingredients for the best price.

Q: Who was one of your biggest influences?
AR: I have some people I look up to like Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea and a chef named Jim Schebler at the Foundation Room where I used to work. He’s an amazing chef. I worked with a lot of great chefs over the years. Working my way through the kitchens and side-by-side plating helped me develop my own style.

Q: I am enrolled in culinary school myself and my girlfriend, who is also in the program, has told me some of the chefs can be a little fiery. Is that because their reputation is there on the plate?
AR: I’m intense, but fair. If you’re messing up I’ll probably kick you off the line and do it myself if you send out crap food and sloppy plates. I’m patient in that I’ll stop and show a cook once and then if it keeps coming out the same then it’s going to be a problem. During the rush hours I’m intense because the orders come in at once and if food is not going out on time or the way it’s supposed to be, it’s our reputation on the line.

Q: A lot of chefs have a philosophy when it comes to cooking. Some use seasonal produce, others are big into farm-to-table. How would you describe your philosophy?
AR: I’m more of a farm-to-table chef. Much more of what is in season right now, like crosnes, and that’s just how I cook. My philosophy is very farm-to-table, very seasonal.

Q: What is it like at home for you? Are you always cooking?
AR: We have to make more baby-friendly foods. So I’ll do baked chicken stuff with lemons and garlic. Since we have a lot of stuff in the backyard, we can use our giant lemon tree and rosemary plant, a persimmon tree and figs.

Q: When you cook at home, what do you use?
AR: Fish. It’s probably the most versatile meat there is as far as color and ways you can cook it.

Q: Where do you shop for ingredients?
AR: Well, we have our own garden so I try to use that stuff—mostly vegetables. When it comes to meat, I will go to meat markets. For fish I try to head to the coast to find the freshest stuff.

Q: Is cooking at home a lot more pleasure than anything else?
AR: Yeah, absolutely. I get to spend time with my wife and little one and expose my daughter to cooking and gardening.

Q: How much are you involved in the farming aspect of food?
AR: I try to use as much as I can from the garden in our backyard. I love exposing my daughter to that; I think it’ll be fun when she gets older to bring her in the garden and have her pick and plant stuff and develop appreciation of where food comes from.

Q: What’s next for you?
AR: I’m hoping to get back into the kitchen soon. Don’t have a name or a place yet, but it’s happening. Hope to have more of a new American or gastropub with an open kitchen. It would be really cool and hip for LA.

Catch of the Day: Chef Robbins says fish—including sea bass—and scallops are his favorite protein to cook with because he feels he can do more, and gets more color and flavor with fish as opposed to beef.

Don’t Try This At Home: Chef Aaron Robbins says culinary students should work hard and be better than the people around them to rise quickly. “Watch, listen, learn and soak everything in. I had a culinary student come in and change all my dishes. Don’t do that, ” Robbins says.

Culinary Lab
8033 Sunset Blvd, Ste 877
Los Angeles, CA 90046
424.284.2580 | www.culinarylab.com

PIRCH
101 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91210
818.743.9999 | www.pirch.com