LA’s Culinary Minds Share Their Restaurateuring Secrets

Pearls of Wisdom from Los Angeles’ Culinary Creatives LA Chefs

Written By: Priscilla Ng and Diane Armitage Learn How to Run a Restaurant from LA Chefs
Photographed By: Michael Oliveri & Travis McCoy


Tetsu Yahagi, Chef de Cuisine at Spago Beverly Hills

Q: What makes a great chef?

Tetsu Yahagi: A great chef loves and respects the food and the industry—it’s really the most important quality a chef can have.

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

TY: I love grilling proteins over different types of charcoals—for instance, the Grilled Sonoma Lamb Chop on our tasting menu, or our dinner menu’s Côte de Boeuf—since each kind of charcoal gives different results.

Marcos Rodriguez, Owner & Chef at PopKitch

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

Marcos Rodriguez: I love making curry because it’s such a rich, layered offering of spices. I learned how to cook Mexican food from my mom, and when all the right products are combined with the right spices, you create this real comfort and depth in your food.  

Q: What was the very first dish you cooked?

MR: My mother tells people that she gave me my start in my career when, at the age of 4, I asked her to teach me to cook. She said, ‘I’ll teach you two things that no one knows how to cook—eggs and rice.’

It’s a science! You have to whip the egg to incorporate just enough air, add a dash of salt, and leave the egg a tiny bit runny so that it’s cooked to perfection by the time it arrives at the table.    


Jon Shook (with Ludo Lefebrvre and Vinny Dotolo), Co-Owner at Trois Familia

Q: What make a great chef?

Jon Shook: There’s so much involved with being a great chef. First, you have to be creative and really understand food. But managing people is such an important element to running a successful restaurant as a chef. For me, delegating was my hardest lesson, as you finally have to realize that you just can’t be in so many places at one time.

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

JS: I love all the dishes on our menu, but the Double Decker Potato Taco is probably my favorite. Vinny is the inventor behind it—it comes with a great carrot salsa, sour cream and cilantro. Truly a unique and non-traditional taste treat!


Mark White, Owner at Tangaroa Fish Market

Q: What makes a great chef?

Mark White: Simplicity. I like the flavors of the food to speak for themselves. For example, I don’t want to overcomplicate my fish.

Q: What makes a great restaurant owner?

MW: This is my first restaurant, so I’m learning. But I think being in touch with your customers is what makes a great restaurant owner.

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

MW: I love using fresh shellfish to make a great cioppino.

Q: What is your signature that differentiates you from everyone else?

MW: The freshness of our food is definitely what distinguishes us from other restaurants in the city, as well as the casualness in which we serve it.


Dana Robertson, Owner at Restauration

Q: What makes a great chef?

Dana Robertson: A great chef leads by example. They help instill the same pride they take in their food and facilities in their team and help develop their team to follow suit. Regarding their food, they need to be able to adapt accordingly while maintaining their vision and passion for what they create.

Q: What makes a great restaurant owner?

DR: For me, it’s understanding that there is always room to grow and learn from my mistakes. Make sure your team knows you won’t ask them to do anything you aren’t willing to do. Be firm, but fair.

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

DR: I am not the creative person when it comes to the menu; Chef Phil Pretty is. His thoughtfulness and palette were exactly what I was looking for at Restauration. If I’m at home though, I guess my favorite area to play is appetizers. I will put up a mean spread of noshing nibbles that will make people full before dinner.

Q: What is your signature that differentiates you from everyone else?

DR: I am super passionate about making sure people in Long Beach experience what locally sourced, made from scratch food tastes like. We’ve made our team members very conscious of their meals, where it comes from, and what “fresh” dishes taste like.


Attila Bollok, Chef de Cuisine at Barton G.

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

Attila Bollok: My favorite dish has a focus on clean and balanced flavors with at least one tone standing out as bold, accompanied by various complementing nuances. Multiple textures are very important keeping every bite interesting to the palate. Plating style should only be as fussy as the dish dictates, to ensure you can easily accomplish several components in a single bite, especially your first one.

Q: What makes a great chef?

BG: To be a successful chef within our company, they have to just ‘get it’. They have to be open minded, and ‘buy in’ to the concept and be inspired by the creative process—then it falls into place from there.

Q: What makes a great restaurant owner?

BG: In the case of Barton G. Restaurants, it’s one who inspires his team creatively, and challenges them to keep pushing and developing new ideas. An inexhaustible drive to deliver a multisensory experience, a party for all the senses!

Q: What is your favorite dish to create?

BG: We have many dishes that are a blast to create—asking me to choose a favorite is like asking me to pick a favorite child! Our development team is working tirelessly to deliver that ‘wow’ that our clientele has come to expect. It’s not only dinner, it’s entertainment—we make people smile. No limits, no boundaries.

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Priscilla is a Southern California native who is studying English and Literary Journalism. Some of her favorite things to do are archery, traveling, and trying out new foods. Aside from school and writing for Locale Magazine, she is working on a young adult fiction novel and hopes to achieve her dream of publishing a book series.


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