Downtown's New Burger Joint: LA Market by Kerry Simon
Chef Kerry Simon, second from left, with his LA Market team: Pastry Chef Ramon Ramos, Executive Chef Eric Branger and Chef de cuisine Jacob Ramos.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — As media were taking a tour of the JW Marriott L.A. Live on Tuesday, a writer asked Simon his favorite dish on the menu at LA Market, the hotel restaurant where he serves as consulting chef. "The burger," he said without hesitation.
"As soon as I walked away, I was like, 'Should I have said that?'" says Simon when we sit down for an interview the following day. "But that to me is All-American, and it's something that everybody gets. We're going to sell a lot of them here, we already have. I embrace things like that."
Simon has built his reputation on those sort of simple dishes done well and with a twist, "taking those classics of American food and reinventing them." His recipes for meatloaf and mac and cheese have followed him from restaurant to restaurant.
And when it comes to the burger, Simon does have some credentials. He won "Iron Chef America" in 2005 in an episode where hamburger was the featured ingredient.
The simple dishes are appealing because anyone can connect with them.
"Our lives are so intense and so busy that you want people to smile and have fun," he explains. "That's kind of the thing behind the scenes with me, how to figure out something that is going to work for a business meeting or whatever, but at the same time they're going to be like, 'Man, that was really cool.' You want to hit those people that aren't the gourmets. You want to get to that meatloaf guy who says 'That was really good.' That's a home run."
He wants LA Market to be a place where people can stop in for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just desserts and a cocktail. Prices are moderate, with dishes coming in under $30.
The new restaurant sits off the lobby of the 878-room hotel, part of the $2.5 billion L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex. For Simon, who picked up the nickname "Rock n’ Roll Chef" in the early 1990s, that's perfect. "With sports and music and all that, you're going to have so many different people down here," he says. "It's going to turn into somewhere people can just come and hang out."
Since getting involved in the project roughly nine months ago, Simon has gotten to experience Downtown's revitalization, and its restaurants.
He singles out Arts District sushi spot R23 as a place he visited multiple times. "It's a very cool kind of vibe and fun, but they're very serious about their food. I connect with that. That's kind of how I feel about what I do."
Simon enjoys working on these sort of partnership restaurants. "I like working with different companies. I like to see what happens. It's kind of the fun of life, you know? There's so many different people involved."
After a whirlwind two weeks in the kitchen, he will leave the restaurant in the hands of hotel Executive Chef Eric Branger, LA Market Chef de cuisine Jacob Ramos and pastry chef Ramon Ramos. Simon praises all three for their talent and the way they've embraced his style.
The hotel opened sold-out for a convention on Monday, so there was some learning on the job involved. "There's a little more edginess to things, but in general I think that it's been a really positive thing for everyone."