Six degrees of inspiration - Los Angeles

4 Jul 2016
by Jordana Rothman • In partnership with FOOD & WINE
 

An art book publisher; a cutting edge architect; a fried shrimp taco—Los Angeles chefs and restaurateurs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo share the artists, institutions and eats that inspire them.

 

1. Benedikt and Lauren Taschen / Taschen Publishing

Visionary German publisher Benedikt Taschen and his wife Lauren—who helped make a phenomenon of the Miami Art Basel festival—are at the nexus of LA’s progressive art scene. The power couple live in a house befitting a Bond villain, an octagonal flying saucer known as the Chemosphere, suspended in the Hollywood Hills and accessible only by funicular. Before they opened restaurants, Jon and Vinny would cater events at the Chemosphere and developed a relationship with the Taschens—the couple are now Jon and Vinny’s only business partners. “They inspire us and support us; they believe in us, parent us and guide us,” says Jon. “People with vision and a need for artistic expression also need people who are going to champion them. The Taschens have done that for Jon and I, and we would never be where we are without them,” adds Vinny, who finds inspiration in the way the Taschens choose and execute their projects. “They don't waver in quality. As a publisher, Benedikt has carved out a niche market and so have we, in our own way. Each of our spaces is like a little art project.”

Taschen Books: taschen.com

 

2. Jeff Guga

It was actually Benedikt Taschen who connected Jon and Vinny with Jeff Guga. The architect, a Frank Gehry alum, had designed a Taschen pop-up in New York, but had never worked on a restaurant when the chefs approached him to build Jon & Vinny’s. “We met him and we were completely blown away. It is insane what a wealth of knowledge this guy is,” says Jon. Guga’s decision to wrap the space in clean California white oak earned the restaurant a nomination in the 2016 James Beard Foundation design awards. “Guga brings high-end design and thought processes into every day spaces, and that’s similar to how we think about what we do,” says Vinny. “We do high-end technique and flavor in [accessible] settings.”

Jeff Guga: g-u-g-a.com

 

3. LACMA

Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation near the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a favorite photo op for tourists, but there’s a world of inspiration inside for those who venture past the gate. LACMA is home to more than 150,000 objects and artworks, from ancient Afghani spear heads to Robert Weingarten’s trippy photographs of the Malibu sunrise. “LACMA is an important museum. It’s relevant to the city; it drives tourism and creates jobs,” says Vinny. “We’ve watched it grow and change over time, constantly raising the bar. We try to follow suit in that with our restaurants.”

LACMA: 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-857-6000; lacma.org

 

4. The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Norbert Wabnig bought the Cheese Store from its original owner in 1978 and he’s been a fixture there ever since. The shop is an oasis of discovery in Beverly Hills—a treasury of extravagant caviar and truffles, honeys laced with orange blossom, olive oils from the Peloponnese, and of course the most expansive collection of curds in the city of Los Angeles. Wabnig had a hand in Jon and Vinny’s early success, when they were struggling to find purveyors willing to work with their small catering operation. “They are so welcoming at the shop. They want you to ask questions, they want to teach. They want the opportunity to talk about where something came from and what it tastes like and maybe steer you in a new direction,” says Vinny. “Norbert touches so many people, but he is so humble and mellow about it,” adds Jon. “He just wants to interact with the customers and play his piano because he’s an old musician. I feel like if you are living that kind of life then you have done something right.”

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills: 419 N Beverly Dr, Los Angeles; 310-278-2855; cheesestorebh.com

 

5. South Willard

Just a few blocks from Son of a Gun, South Willard does double duty as a men’s store and art gallery. There’s a high level of curation on both fronts: On the racks you might find perfectly rumpled chambray oxfords from Gitman Vintage, or a pair of corded trousers from Japanese designer Tuki by Kosuke Harada. On the shelves: rotating art exhibits, with an emphasis on ceramics. “The owner, Ryan Conder, has a great eye for LA ceramicists and that’s mainly why I go there,” says Vinny, who collects work from sculptors like Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and David Korty who he discovered at South Willard.

South Willard: 8038 W 3rd St, Los Angeles; 323-653-6153; southwillard.com

 

6. Mariscos Jalisco

Raul Ortega’s Olympic Boulevard taco truck has a cult following in Los Angeles. Among its famous fans is legendary LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who once wrote “admitting that you live in Los Angeles but haven't visited Mariscos Jalisco is like confessing that you've never been to Dodger Stadium.” Ortega serves ceviches, spicy aguachile tostadas and oysters on the half shell, but the pro move here is the dorados—shrimp tacos crisped up in hot oil, tortilla and all. “Mariscos Jalisco is one of those iconic LA experiences. The food is extraordinarily good, it’s affordable and accessible,” says Jon. “We don’t really try to recreate those flavors at our restaurants, but the experience itself is inspiring,” says Vinny. “The quality is there every time, and there’s that communal feeling—the fact that this is open to every walk of life.”

Mariscos Jalisco: 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-528-6701

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