The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2014

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56  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2014 CHEFS: ONE-ON-ONE WITH MERRILL SHINDLER C hef Nick Erven looks like the kid next door—or at least, the kid next door who happens to play guitar in an alt-rock band. He's got the eyeglasses of an English major, the beard of a philosophy major and the tattoos of a biker—though maybe his bike is a 15-speed model rather than a Harley. He's as affable as an edgy, out-of-left-field, quirky chef can be—no attitude, just enthu- siasm, and the sort of sense of humor that often fades in the heat of the kitchen. He's a guy who loves what he does. And what he does is cook food not quite like anyone else, at a mini-mall storefront in L.A.'s Koreatown named for the patron saint of chefs, Saint Martha. Merrill Shindler: My guess is, you grew up in Venice, California, or maybe Portland, Oregon . . . Nick Erven: Nope. Grew up in Riverton, Wyoming. I was the only kid in Wyoming who skateboarded. Or at least, the only kid who skateboarded with blue hair. So, you grew up eating buffalo burgers and elk steaks? It's not exactly a culinary mecca. My father is a playwright. My mother is a librarian. We ate beefsteak tomatoes and chopped iceberg lettuce salads. We were very Middle American. So, the kitchen is not in your blood? I grew up playing trumpet. I wanted to be a jazz musician. Being young and playing jazz forces you to think out of the box, to flex your creative muscles. And then, I started getting into bands, playing guitar—mostly in punk rock bands. Can we connect music and food? Sure. Being in a kitchen is a lot like being in a rock band. You get the same kind of people— both worlds attract misfits. And in both worlds, you can be heavily tattooed. You have a real thing for quirky dishes—like sautéed spot prawns with cream of wheat, and steak and oyster tartare with bone marrow beignets. You ever cook regular food? We had a great meatloaf sandwich at my other restaurant, Tart. But here, it's about creating stuff I want to eat. Food that makes me happy, and makes others happy, too. It's all about making a connection. If a flavor connects, I'm doing my job. Saint Martha is a small restaurant with an open kitchen. There's no place to hide . . . There's a great reward in getting to know people, having great conversations with people sitting in front of me at the bar. Food is important. But the most important thing is how it all comes together—the food, the wine, the people enjoying themselves. It's a personal experience for me, and for the diners. Ultimately, that's how food should be—a very personal experience. Nick Erven SAINT MARTHA IN LOS ANGELES Octopus with Koshihikari rice, sauce nero, lardo and espelette. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAINT MARTHA PHOTO: DUSTIN DOWNING

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