Industry Insiders: Nikki Sood, Bollywood Babe

Like a West Coast subcontinental Le Cirque, Beverly Hills’ most legendary Indian restaurant, Gaylord, has shuttered its doors, only to pass the keys to the temple down to its cooler progeny. The result is Tanzore, Los Angeles’ most stylish paean to Bollywood chic and gourmet curried eats. The menu samples and mixes classic Indian flavors like a culinary Talvin Singh, blending with international styles and techniques to reinvent the concept of Indian plates. Nikki Sood, mastermind behind Tanzore’s gorgeous design and reinvention, waxes on the struggle to stake a claim in the LA food game, the courage to try something new, getting your eyebrows threaded and your hair did in Artesia, and the happiness (and sadness) of living life like a Hindi movie.

Tell me about yourself. My life is like an Indian movie. If you’ve ever watched one, you’ll know what I am talking about. My dad is from Delhi, India, and my mom is from Kenya, Africa, but she’s Indian. My parents had an arranged marriage in London, typical of Indians, and they were married in one week. They lived in London for over 17 years. They struggled, worked hard, and brought my sister and me to America for the hope that there would be better opportunities here. My dad sold his house in London and decided to move to L.A. for the “American Dream.” I grew up around the restaurant business, but it wasn’t fine dining Indian food, rather a popular fast food chain my dad became a franchisee of. His passion was great Indian restaurants, and he always wanted to own one; that’s where Gaylord’s came in the picture.

Was this your lifelong passion? I never dreamed that I would be running an Indian restaurant. I was just a girl who was very passionate about design, architecture, and anything related to art. I was also discovering my culture, born in London, raised in L.A., having a very traditional Indian household and balancing East and West. I realized that I could use my background of art and my Indian culture by incorporating my experiences in both at Tanzore.

The toughest part about your job? The challenge has been learning the business side of running a restaurant. Having been around the family business and discussing it almost every day has kept me level-headed and grounded enough to establish a good foundation for Tanzore where I run the day-to-day operations with two key managers, work on marketing and design, handle customer service, and continuously book special events, as well as plan my own, like our comedy night called “Indian Imports III.” My dad taught me that, as the owner, you have to wear all the hats to be successful.

Where do you eat out? Growing up, I would never eat sushi. There is no way I am eating raw fish. Lo and behold, I can’t get this little sushi restaurant out of my mind; the food is unbelievable. A friend of mine introduced Katsu-Ya 2 in Encino [not to be confused with Katsuya] to me, and it has become one of my favorites — except the fact that even though you make a reservation, you still have to wait an hour. Typical L.A., right? Other favorites are Mi Piace in Pasadena and The Little Door. What was the biggest challenge in convincing your parents to hand over the reigns of their legendary restaurant? The restaurant spent 17 years as Gaylord India Restaurant. Frankly I never really understood the name, but I learned that Gaylord’s was all over the world from Japan, Hong Kong, London, the States, and had a great following. Still growing up in L.A., I wasn’t going to be caught dead there with my girlfriends on a Saturday night for drinks. I was scouting hotter L.A. places, but always wished that there was a cool, hip Indian restaurant in town. After years of traveling with my parents and having my dad show me some great Indian restaurants in London, I had this idea of changing the old Gaylord’s into something fabulous, fresh, and distinctive. It took four years of convincing, discussions, and disagreements with my parents. Let alone we needed time to save enough money to create this vision and dream we had. In the end, my dad was very supportive, and he let my creative visions be explored hand-in-hand with the architect. He included me in most of the decision-making for Tanzore. I was able to use my MFA in graphic design and pursue creating an identity for the restaurant. I was convinced that it was the way to go and we would be the first and best modern Indian restaurant L.A. has to offer. That’s what I hoped for.

Who do you admire in your industry? Philippe Starck is an amazing designer from restaurant interiors to impressive innovative furniture designs.

What is one trend that you love in L.A. dining? I admire those restaurants taking a leap and doing something different, whether it’s creating a new style of food, a cutting-edge design, or pushing the envelope. I think there is this world of creativity out there, and if you are lucky, you can have a chance of pursuing it.

Trends that drives you crazy? The “L.A. Scene.” It’s a tough nut to crack. You can’t be too in, or you’re already out.

Something that people don’t know about you? I am absolutely crazy about music, and I was blessed with having my grandmother live with me. Growing up, she taught me Hindi so I could at least speak and understand it. I absolutely have no clue how to read or write it. That being said, I love Indian Bollywood music, trance, and dance music.

What’s your favorite song? It changes all the time, but for now I would say, “Jai Ho,” by A.R. Rahman, from Slumdog Millionaire. Where can we get a strong shot of Indian culture in L.A.? You’re not talking about the local 7 Eleven, right? Try Artesia at Pioneer Boulevard or Little India on a Saturday is the best place to get a sense of Indian culture. You can enjoy some small plates of savory dishes and street food like chaat papdri, samosas, or pani puri; buy some nice bindis; get your eyebrows shaped; catch a three-hour long Indian movie with all the singing, drama, and dancing; purchase a beautiful, colorful Indian sari that your girlfriends won’t stop talking about, and maybe even try on gold jewelry. If you don’t feel like leaving your house, rent a Bollywood movie like Kabhi Kushi Khabhi Ghum — translated to “Sometimes There Is Sadness and Sometimes There Is Happiness” — and you’ll get a glimpse of the culture.

Has Tanzore been popular with those crazy celebrities? We’ve had all kinds of celebrities: Mayor Antonio Villagrosa was here with a group of guests this past weekend. Will.i.am attending as well. Diane Lane, Josh Brolin, Danny DeVito, Latoya Jackson, Zach Braff, Sendhid Ramamurthy, Gulshan Grover, Ravi Kapoor, Meera Simhani, Clifton Davis, Shar Jackson, and the cast of Cold Case. My favorite is Randy Jackson. He is so down to earth and loves our food.

What are you doing tonight? If I’m not working at the restaurant, then I’m home with my two boys, Shaan and Ahren, doing my second-hardest job.

Industry Insiders: DJ Ivy, Blonde Ambition

DJ Ivy, aka Homewrecker, makes noise at LA hotspots Les Deux, One Sunset, Kress, Social Hollywood, S Bar, Viper Room, Key Club, Cinespace, V-Lounge, and The Garter. A 7 Jeans designer by day and Hollywood selector by night, she’s known for her rocking sets and smashing blonde locks. Here the hottie goes off on hustling 24 hours a day, shots with Dr. Dre, her homies, and fashion in LA.

Where do you hang out? I go to a lot of different spots for different reasons, but you can almost always find me at Les Deux at least twice a week. Fortunately, I’ve become close to the owners, staff, and promoters. We’re like one big, happy Hollywood family. I also love going to LAX, especially on Sunday nights for Banana Split. You can usually spot me singing along with the silly hipster kids on the dance floor or posted up in the DJ booth with the homies. I’ll always find at least one person I know there so I can roll solo and don’t have to worry about being bored. The music is hip-hop mixed with electro and dance — a guaranteed good time. Another favorite is Villa, generally to see my local favorite, DJ Edski. It’s an intimate setting, fairly small, but there’s something about the atmosphere that always makes me enjoy myself. They’re very selective at the door, so it allows some celebs to remain low-key. Oh, and the drinks are strong too.

What do you do? I’m a DJ by night, clothing designer by day. Some would call me a “hustler,” as it’s referred to on the streets. I am truly a self-made, hard-working woman, driven by success and motivated to be the best. I work as a designer Monday through Friday, 9-6, while DJing for Lisa D’Amato during the week, Les Deux Fridays, and various local Hollywood clubs Saturday nights. It gets a little hectic, but I love constantly being busy and having a schedule to follow. Without chaos, my life would be dull.

What do you like about nightlife in LA? I love how you never know who or what you are going to see-slash-do. It’s unpredictable — even if you originally had a game plan. One minute you could be having a casual drink at a neighborhood bar on Sunset, and the next you could be pounding champagne shots with Dr. Dre.

Anything you can’t stand about nightlife in LA? My number one pet peeve is waiting in lines to get into a club. I won’t do it. I might wait about five minutes maximum to talk to someone or approach the guest list, but after that, forget it. I’d rather go someplace I know I can get in with no problem.

Who’s in your crew? My favorite and most influential mentor is DJ Edski, a native to Los Angeles and a local favorite in the Hollywood night scene. He put me on the map in LA and gave me my first weekly residency. Since I came from the east coast scene originally, Edski also helped teach me to cater to bougie Hollywood crowds. Other industry associates include: DJ MisterE, DJ Bizzy, DJ Ammo, Mr. Best, DJ Higher, Steve 1der, The Rad Girls, The Dolce Group, Lisa D’Amato and her super smokin’ hot bikini dancers, and of course all my hot homegirls who come to most of my events.

What’s with all those pesky Hollywood celebrities? The good thing about pesky celebrities is they aren’t that pesky at all. Aside from all their quirky habits and outlandish requests, they actually bring a positive energy to most parties and events. They usually enter with an entourage, which in turn means more people for the club, and if they like you, they’ll most likely request for you to be playing future events, which equals more money and credibility. A few months ago, I was DJing at Beso and one of the owners from Les Deux came in to see me and brought Too Short with him. He was hyping me up on the ride over, so when we were officially introduced, Too Short had a lot of nice things to say. That was a very rewarding moment, so as soon as he stepped back, I started playing him a set of all his most popular hits and the crowd went crazy. The set lasted for about 45 minutes, and he loved it.

What’s something that people don’t know about you? I have a love for female pop stars. Along with my passion for music, I have a love for beautiful art. As a result, the walls of my Hollywood home are plastered with giant framed posters of inspiring female icons such as Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Gwen. Mostly Britney though.

What are three records you couldn’t live life without? Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt; Lil’ Wayne, Tha Carter II; and 2 Live Crew, As Nasty as They Wanna Be.

What’s up with LA fashion? Even though trends are consistent everywhere in the US, New York fashion is a lot different from LA. New York fashion is nothing like Sex and the City, even though television makes it seem that way. Very few women put on a Prada dress and a pair of Manolo pumps to go grocery shopping. It’s hard to dress up and walk the streets of New York because a pair of heels are destroyed in one day, whereas in LA you can hop in your car and strut down Rodeo ‘til the sun goes down. New York girls are easygoing, natural looking, and less fussy, while LA girls tend to be more artificial and high maintenance, even during the day. When I lived in New York, I had to dress based on weather and where I had to travel that day by subway, taxi, or walking. Here, I feel like I have more fun with fashion because I don’t have to consider those factors.

What are you doing tonight? I have my first night off in weeks, so I plan on going to some Grammy after-parties with friends. Maybe I’ll have another fun celebrity story to tell tomorrow.

Industry Insiders: Avi Brosh, Hip Hotelier

Having made a name for himself as a developer, Avi Brosh found a hole to fill in hospitality, responding with his hyper-cool West Hollywood hotel Palihouse and succeeding where none had before in making LAX-adjacent Westchester hop with his Custom Hotel. This creative spirit expands on his years of hard work, present trials and travels, and dreams for the future.

Where do you hang out? I go to The Hall Courtyard Brasserie at Palihouse Holloway. It has the absolute best vibe and crowd in LA. I also love the street Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, where there are several great neighborhood restaurants and bars I go to frequently. I’m in New York at least five to ten days a month, and every time I’m there I always seem to manage my way, at some point, to this gorgeous little bar in Tribeca called Smith & Mills. I love that place, but they only take cash — which I pretty much never have on me — so I’m always bumming drinks from whomever I’m there with.

Who in your business do you admire? I vividly remember walking into the lobby of the Paramount Hotel in New York City in 1990 and my jaw literally dropping. I’d never seen a place — not to mention a hotel — like that before. The early Philippe Starck-Ian Schrager collaborations completely changed the hotel landscape, so I have a very high regard for them for doing that. In addition, I would add that I have a tremendous amount of respect for just about anyone who has the courage, audacity, and wherewithal to actually develop unique buildings and/or open independent hotels, because I know firsthand how unbelievably difficult that is to do.

What do you like in the hospitality industry these days? Authenticity is the positive trend for just about everything relating to travel and lodging. When people travel these days, they want to see people just as much as they want to see places. At the core of this attitude is a desire to stylishly — and cost-effectively — experience destinations all that much more authentically through the eyes of a local.

Anything you dislike? I think the whole notion of gigantic, corporate hotel companies and chains trying to manufacture cool, boutique, sub-brands is kind of bogus. It’s the complete opposite of the notion of authentic.

What don’t we know about you? People who don’t know me seem to have this perception that, as a fairly well-known developer and now hotelier, I might be loud or flashy, but I’m actually rather reserved and private.

Your hotels always have good music in the air. What is your all-time favorite album? I’m into bands like Hot Chip, Cut Copy, Yelle, and LCD Soundsystem. If I had to single out one all-time favorite album, I’d have to pick My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. In terms of sense of style in music, I think Pharell Williams is by far the coolest.

What do your future plans involve? To make it through this nasty recession as unscathed as possible. We currently have projects in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City. My number-one focus is to continue to carefully and stylishly grow the “by Palisades” residential brands and the Palihouse and Palihouse spin-off hospitality brands in the best locations in the best cities in the United States and Canada, and then around the world.

Industry Insiders: Paige Clay, Flake Fanatic

Paige Clay, proprietress of Flake Cereal Bar and Luncheonette, on her current state of stokedness, her past as a stunt-girl, and her dreams of serving Kix to the Beckham kids.

What do you do? Well, I guess I’m a cereal slinger. I’m a sugar pusha. I’m a bacon pimp. I roll around Venice and run my little shop. It has a true neighborhood vibe, and I hope that I’m at least somewhat responsible for helping to set that tone. I pretty much got Shang-hai’ed into opening the restaurant by my partner Simon a couple of years ago. I think I originally agreed to help for a few months, and then it ended up consuming my life. Never talk business over pitchers of margaritas, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Where do you eat? I freakin’ love Hinano for a burger and a Hinano Tahitian Beer in an icy cold mug. I actually think Albertsons, the grocery store, has the bomb-est fried chicken in town. And I’m a southern girl, so I know what I’m talking. Capo is my favorite restaurant on the whole planet. I have to restrain myself from licking the plates because everything there is so fantastic. It’s hella spendy, but well worth it. Big fat martinis, too.

Where do you hang out? I love Venice Beach Wines for drinks and snacks with friends. The atmosphere is really unique, and can be lively or serene depending on the evening. I also really love Lido Grill on Washington Boulevard. Great hummus, great mixed grill.

Who do you admire in your industry? Captain Crunch is doing some great stuff over at Quaker, and that Count Chocula, man, what vision! No, I really admire anyone who’s passionate about their business or their art or sport. I really get so stoked on other people who are stoked. It’s a big super stoke fest.

Any restaurant trends you’re into these days? I’m starting a garden at Flake. Growing the things I buy now, basil and cucumbers for the Greek salad, jalapeños and tomatoes for Felix’s salsa. I’m into being somewhat self-sufficient, Alice Waters-style. I’m gunnin’ for a bee hive and some goats so I can make my own honey and goats cheese. So, maybe I’ll start a trend.

What is something that people don’t know about you? That I had a misspent youth. I spent it traveling around the world jumping off of stuff for a living, both as a pro snowboarder and Hollywood stunt girl.

Has Flake been popular with those crazy celebrities? Flake don’t kiss and tell, but I will tell you, it is my dream to get those Beckham kids to come in and eat some cereal. I mean, Posh, gimme some Romeo and Brooklyn. Even Becks himself can’t hold a candle to little Cruz. I mean I love those kids. I wanna get Brittney’s kids in here too, what do they call those two kids of hers, tater tot and small fry? Yup, I want them. Oh, I’d take Lourdes and Rocco — they’d be good, too. Or Sasha and Malia.

Industry Insiders: Farouk Gandhi, Rasta Rebel

Farouk Gandhi, owner of Santa Monica dance club V-Lounge and comrade to every Rastamon in Los Angeles, lets us know the real on the city’s best strip clubs, his favorite selectors, and the second coming of Tiger Woods.

Where does a man of your caliber hang out? My favorite place by far is Sam’s Hofbrau in Downtown. $2 Coors Light on Mondays and Tuesdays. You can’t go wrong. I also like to hit Carbon on Tuesdays and check out my boy Phers1 on the decks. Jamaican Gold on Sundays. Happy hour at On the Waterfront in Venice for Erdingers in the sun. Other than that I’m usually at my club.

What do you do? I wear a few different hats, but mainly, I run a nightclub and throw great parties. I started going to big festivals when I was 13, from Lollapalooza to the Smoking Groove Tours in the early 90s. From then on, I was always interested in events, concerts, and clubs. At UCLA, I was fortunate to start working on the UCLA JazzReggae Festival and eventually directed and produced the show for three years. Reggae artists, like most artists, are very eccentric. With most of them being Jamaican, I think they look at things very differently than artists from the US, making them a little tricky to deal with. I developed a surplus of patience through dealing with lots of people who look at things differently than you might.

The Westside doesn’t have a lot of good dance clubs. What is V-Lounge all about? At V-Lounge, we make sure everyone has a blast. From great music to personal attention, we really focus on everyone having a great time. Whether there are 100 people or 500 people, we try and keep the energy the same. We focus on the 25-to-35-year-old young professional who enjoys going out to have a good time, versus going out to say they were out just to impress others. We’ve been lucky to keep a pretty consistent crowd because we never tried to be that “exclusive” nightclub.

What makes a great party different from a good party? No one leaves a great party. You know a party is truly great when the majority of the crowd does not leave until they are forced out. There is an energy that everyone has and feels that defines when a party has been great.

What’s the best part of running a nightclub? I love watching people have a great time. Everyone works hard, has a lot stress, and needs to have a good time. We throw parties and get into it while we work. Let the suckas who stress keep the stress.

Who are your people? Do you pay attention to other nightlife players? I try and be cool with only cool people, not the phony LA implants out here trying to fake the funk and ruin the name of our great city. I try and check out what’s happening at other places, but mainly focus on what friends are doing in the business — other promoters, DJs, and people I’ve worked with and who have helped in my success. I always try and support.

Any secret spots in LA? LA’s got some great places if you search. The meditation center and Swami Temple on Sunset by PCH is a great place to get away. Cafe Brazil in Culver City has the best mango juice. Taco Chabelita on Western’s got a killer burrito. And if you’re in need of a stiff drink, Liquid Kitty is a great place to get your swerve on.

What about time off? I love to golf. I’m almost obsessed with it. I am Tiger Woods.

What are you doing tonight? Killing Patron and Jack shots, checking out how things are running at V-Lounge, and then hitting 4Play. In an ideal world, I’d be there every night. But it tends to hurt the pocket, so I usually got to take that out of the equation.

Industry Insiders: David Myers, Chef of Inspiration

Chef David Myers of Comme Ca Brasserie, Sona, and Boule on jonesing for sushi, LA’s farm fixation, and leisure-time indulgences

You’ve really embraced Los Angeles through your creative, passionate use of local produce. How does this city inspire or frustrate you? I was trying to find where I wanted to open my own restaurant, and I fell in love with LA. The scenic beauty of the mountains and ocean deeply inspires me. Traffic is another issue though.

And where do you hang out? I don’t have a lot of time to hang out, given my hours, and on the weekends I am usually traveling. However, I love The Otheroom in Venice. It’s in my neighborhood and I love the vibe.

What is your favorite food? Sushi.

Any favorite sushi spots? I love Sushi Nozawa and SugarFISH. In New York, I always eat at EN Brasserie.

Who do you admire in your industry? Of course my mentors are Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud. They continue to inspire me daily, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them giving me a shot.

Any recent trends in dining that you like? The obsession with great products from local farms to plate.

Is there anything you dislike in your industry these days? I try to focus only on the positive. I love what I do.

What is something that people don’t know about you? I avidly support Kipp LA. It’s a program that runs three college-prep charter schools in LA. I love surfing and finding new projects to break out talent.

You currently run two celebrated restaurants and a bakery. Do you cook at home, or order a lot of take-out? I always cook at home. Of course, this is when I have the luxury of being home.

Plans for the future? We are opening two Italian restaurants with my partner Steve Samson, a bakery with Hide Kubota, and opening Boule in Tokyo in September 2009.

What are you doing tonight? I’m working at Sona, then going home to cook with my Weber grill.

Industry Insiders: Jen Egan, LA Nightlife Headliner

Jen Egan, Gen Art’s ubiquitous It Girl and Project Runway’s eagle eye, on being perpetually “out,” decoding Japanese door lists, and why Beverly Hills fashion still sucks.

Where do you hang out? I love the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel. Jeff Klein is a good friend, and Dimitry, who does not need a last name just like Madonna and Cher need no other name, is bar none the best host in the city. He will greet you with his adorable Italian accent, “Ciao bella,” and kiss you, always both cheeks, and never an air kiss. Tower Bar is dark enough to take 10 years off me, swank enough that there are always celebrity sightings, and intimate enough that you feel cozy munching on the amazing thin crust pizza and drinking champagne, a.k.a. “champers dahhhling.”

On the other side of the spectrum, I love St. Nicks Pub for a cold beer and to get back in touch with my Irish roots. And, The Otheroom is a staple in my repertoire, only because it is very close to my house and has a prolific selection of wines and beers.

What do you do? I go out a lot. I throw 30 parties and attend what seems like another 200 a year. I once thought it’d be very glamorous to throw and attend the city’s hottest parties, but it is actually grueling, because it is mostly work. I use strong under-eye make-up to take away the dark circles.

I’m also the national vice president of marketing and business development of Gen Art, a national nonprofit dedicated to showcasing, promoting, and supporting the arts. We just celebrated our 15-year anniversary. We’ve helped discover hundreds of amazing new designers and produced thousands of shows. I oversee a team in each one of our markets who ensures that we continue to grow our audience, press, and branding equity. I also work on casting for shows like Project Runway and am currently working on a new show called The Sew Off.

Who do you admire in nightlife? I have to say it, and I know this will be controversial, unless The Hills is your fave show: Brent Bolthouse. Before you snicker, let me explain. He was really the first to carve out the celebrity nightlife space, and overexposed clubs and restaurants aside, he really is a brilliant architect of nightlife. Amanda Demme is also a fearless arbiter of nightlife. She has impeccable taste and “gets it” when predicting what will resonate with the indie but nonetheless A-list crowd.

What trends do you like in nightlife these days? Hotel bars are making a huge comeback, to my surprise and delight. All the best hotels, and even the more questionable ones, are giving their bars a Kelly Wearstler-like makeover and appealing to the post-work-in-need-of-a-drink crowd. I’ve also noticed that a lot of clubs and bars are incorporating more art into their spaces and events. They’ll have an art exhibition displayed on the walls, a new film projected, a fashion vignette, or installation or experimental new music.

Anything you can’t stand? I hate the idea of “the list.” I think the idea of a VIP room or space within a bar or club is so late 90s. I love the rooftop at Thompson Beverly Hills, but every time I go, the door girl looks at me like I am trying to smuggle heroin across a border. I hear that the beautiful Japanese door-nazi actually writes her lists in her native language so that no one can peek over and give a name off the list. Secretly, I find that kind of glamorous, but completely preposterous.

What is something that people might not know about you? My favorite thing to do is nothing. My job requires that I am out a lot of the time, and my job is highly demanding. When I get a free moment, I actually love to do absolutely nothing.

What are you listening to? My favorite new artist is MGMT. My favorite group of all time is Radiohead, and my favorite DJ is Michelle Pesce.

Where do we find LA fashion at its best? Part of what I love about Los Angeles is that it is so different geographically. Depending on which pocket of the city you are in, you will get a different flavor. My favorite place to observe fashion is Venice because it is the perfect mixture of hipster beach couture. It is a melting pot from a fashion standpoint.

And what about at its worst? I do think the worst fashion in LA can be found in Beverly Hills. It is very “nuevo” and label focused. As an advocate for emerging talent, I am obviously not a big fan of logo-heavy clothing and accessories.

You hit tons of parties in LA. What’s new with all those darned celebrities? I swear to you that Luke Wilson is following me. Just in the last three days, I have seen him at the SLS Hotel, Blvd at the Beverly Wilshire and The Brig. I mean, he could just pick up a phone, there’s no need to lurk around my haunts.

Is there anything particularly mind-blowing Gen Art is seeing from artists in LA these days? With the economy being as it is, we are seeing designs that are multi-functional. They can go from a skirt to a strapless dress with the pull of a snap, or a tunic top to palazzo pants with the flick of a tie.

And finally, what are you doing tonight? I am casting for The Sew Off in Glendale, so I’ll be fighting traffic tonight. I know it sounds super sexy, but it really isn’t. I will then be attending a mustache and minis party

Industry Insiders: Wolfgang Puck, Resto Wizard

Easily one of the most celebrated celebrity chefs in the world, Wolfgang Puck speaks about food with balls, juggling more restaurants than he has fingers, and still finding time to make love.

Where do you love to eat? In France, Beaumaniere. In Italy, Quattro Passi. And in Los Angeles, Matsuhisa. What is your favorite food? Food with some guts or balls, as we would say in the kitchen— no matter what origin. Where are your secret spots? Sidebar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and Angelini Osteria for true Italian food.

How did you come to LA? I grew up in Austria where I did my apprenticeship. At 17, I went to France and worked there in some of the best restaurants, like Beaumaniere, Maxim’s, Hôtel de Paris. My first job was in Indianapolis, but my dream was always to go to California, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and I ended up in Los Angeles in 1975 and fell in love with the city, the climate, and the excitement with everything new. I opened Spago in 1982 and Chinois on Main a year later. I think it was the beginning of a new style of cooking in America.

Who do you admire in your industry? The first one, Raymond Thuilier; a true renaissance man who had the passion and love for cooking and who inspired me and taught me many things. Foremost, that great cooking starts with great ingredients. Second, Andre Soltner, because he had the stamina and professionalism to spend every day of his life in his one restaurant, Lutece, in New York. I do not know if he has the perfect wife, but I know he had the perfect restaurant before it closed in 2004.

What is a trend you like in the dining industry these days? I like that many restaurants today have sommeliers who make up many interesting wine lists and serve wine in a professional way. Also, there is a bigger value put on professional service.

Is there anything you dislike in your industry these days? Most young chefs don’t have the patience to learn the basics so they can grow and become chefs with the right foundation.

What is something that we might not know about you? I am involved with many charities from Los Angeles to Cleveland to Las Vegas, and I also love modern art. Robert Rauschenberg and the Los Angeles artist John Baldisarri are two of my favorites.

What’s next? We will open two more restaurants in the first six months of 2009. One is called Five Sixty in Dallas. It will have a great view and Asian-inspired menu. The second one is a Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill in downtown Los Angeles next to the Staples Center at L.A. Live.

And lastly, what are you doing tonight? I will be in my three restaurants in Los Angeles: Spago, Chinois, and Cut. Have dinner with my wife at 11 p.m., then go home, and hopefully we’ll make love.

Photo: Lisa Romerein

Industry Insiders: Seth Schorr, Vegas Showgun

Vegas native and owner of the newly opened Lucky Club Hotel & Casino Seth Schorr on the future of Vegas nightclubs, early memories of Steve Wynn, and what’s keeping him at home most nights.

Where do you hang out? My wife and I are homebodies these days. Growing up in Las Vegas, I spent my teenage years and early 20s frequenting every club and bar in town. But when we do get the urge to watch other people get intoxicated and listen to loud music, we visit Tryst or Blush at Wynn Las Vegas.

What openings should we know about? I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of XS at Encore, and it will once again raise the bar for nightlife in Las Vegas. It is quite possibly the most sophisticated club in the world. The club has both an indoor and outdoor experience as the walls around the dance floor open, giving access to the pool. There are outdoor lounges and even a gambling area that is incorporated into the club. Minimalism is an adjective that would not be used to describe anything at Encore, which in my humble opinion, makes this property and its retail outlets stand out amongst its neighboring properties. The bold use of colors and the variety of fabrics used throughout the resort is testament to an army of designers lead by Steve Wynn and his lead designer Roger Thomas. Encore is a “category killer” that will also raise the bar of the Las Vegas resort.

Where do you eat? We are partial to dinners at Wynn Las Vegas and eat with my folks at Stratta or local favorites like Lotus of Siam. Also, the restaurant Tokyo in the underrated and antiquated Commercial Center Plaza. We also recently discovered a new Japanese restaurant that’s off the beaten path called Raku. This 25-seat restaurant has the most authentic Japanese food in town for half the price of food on the Strip. Although they do not serve sushi, one can enjoy grilled robotayaki or tsukune.

Who do you admire in Vegas hospitality? My admiration for Steve Wynn is quite obvious. The fact that this man after 40 years and billions of dollars in earnings still works 6.5 days per week is one of his most admirable qualities. But he is also a no-bullshit type of guy. He demands the most out of his employees. He is short on false sincerity and constant encouragement. However, if you can hold your own, you will have the opportunity to work with the best team in the business.

I admire my father, Marc Schorr. My father has worked for Steve Wynn for 30 years and is responsible for making many of his visions a reality. At the end of the day, someone has to focus on the nuances of the operation and make sure these multi-billion dollar machines run effectively, and every detail is scrutinized.

And Bruce Deifik is a one-in-a-million type of guy, who is not only one of the sharpest and best negotiators around, but more importantly is one of the most honest and likable guys you’ll ever meet.

What’s something you like seeing in Vegas hospitality these days? A lot of people have their hands in the hospitality game in Las Vegas. There is more unknown and mystery today than ever before. There are currently three multi-billion-dollar projects in mid-construction, while another half-dozen more are on the drawing boards. Sure, some will stand above the rest, but there is anticipation and excitement about what good qualities each will have of their own. The consumer will also benefit from the economic conditions we currently live under, as they will be able to enjoy these resorts built for the rich and elite at a value. So come one, come all to Las Vegas, where you can stay in the world’s nicest hotel rooms for a buck fifty nine.

Anything you see that you dislike? I do not understand the concept of the condo-hotel. Personally, I think if one spends millions on a condo, they will ultimately not want others to stay in it. Either buy a condo or stay in a hotel. Don’t try and do both.

What was it like growing up in Vegas? Does it mess a lot of kids up? I think kids who grew up in New York City turn out much more messed up. The best part was the late night munchies that any teenager could afford. The negative was that it was too hot to play outside many months out of the year.

Any early Vegas memories? The path that lead me to owning a casino is a long one, starting in 1984, when I first moved to Las Vegas and moved into the Golden Nugget. I was 7 years old and shared room #1027 for about a year with my little sister. The school bus picked me up under the porte cochere, and nightly dinners were held at the buffet. I had the opportunity of meeting celebrities like Paul Anka and clearly remember taking a schvitz with Alan King at the spa.

I watched my father and Steve Wynn schmooze customers and always talk about design and development of the next project. I have a vivid memory of flying on the Golden Nugget DC-10 to New York around 1986. I loved that there was a large glass bowl filled with peanut M&M’s. Steve Wynn showed us a drawing on a napkin of what soon would be known to the world as the Mirage. The idea of a three-pronged building that shared one elevator shaft was novel, and of course having a “live volcano” in front seemed like an incredible fantasy.

What is something that people might not know about you? I am an amateur photographer and videographer. I edit movies using Final Cut Express. I do all of my own in-house promos for the Lucky Club.

You have a background in art history. Who are your favorite artists? My favorite artists are Modigliani and Vermeer.

Any dreams for the future? Kids! I can’t wait. It’s also a great excuse to have sex on a daily basis.

What are you doing tonight? Working on making those dreams come true. We just got back from the opening of Encore. It never ceases to amaze me to see the masses come in droves to check out a new property for the first time. I saw a lot of jaws drop tonight.