Kyle Schutte can't stand menus. Innovation drives the Los Angeles-based chef, and even opening his own restaurant didn't save him from the feeling that his wings had been clipped. Like a fish that must keep swimming to stay alive, the 2014 Cutthroat Kitchen winner must keep creating to feel alive, and he's launching a new dinner series to do just that.
A few years back, Schutte unleashed his creativity with a pop-up series built entirely around ice cream. Even after doubling the number of nights, the entire series sold out with mind-blowing dishes like uni-topped sushi rice ice cream and pork belly with lemongrass ice cream and fish caramel sauce. The chef felt so free in the pop-up setting that he's launching a new series titled Revision that will challenge the way people look at modern gastronomy.
Revision launches March 7 in Los Angeles with several dinners per week split between Venice Beach and the downtown Arts District. The opening menu, Eat Your Dessert, turns traditional desserts into savory dishes like churro pork belly, pumpkin pie chicken and hamachi crudo à la red velvet cake. The five-course dinner comes with an optional wine pairing curated by Spin the Bottle, a local wine studio that specializes in small-production artisanal bottles, and guests can expect lots of added surprises like the after-dinner "mint" and coffee service. PRØHBTD spoke with chef Schutte to learn more.
Tell me about Revision.
Revision is an exercise in just that—constantly looking at what we’re doing and seeing what we can tweak and how it should evolve. That’s what cooking should be: a constant strive to better yourself. The starting point is the S5 Menu, which is my take on the tasting menu. What chef doesn’t wanna do a 30-course tasting menu? You get to show off all these techniques and flavors, but it becomes more about you than about the guest or the dining experience. The guests might think it's really cool, but it’s not fulfilling, and it doesn’t connect with them. As a chef, I want to give an experience, but I also want to give a meal. Five courses are enough to showcase a cool array of techniques and also really feed you.
How do you structure the five courses?
What is the pinnacle course in a typical tasting menu? It's the land-dwelling mammal: the beef, the pork, the lamb course. I thought, "Let's take that course and move it to the center of the tasting." We have this progression that peaks at the center and then starts to drop back down. With that blueprint, I started thinking about where to put everything else. I like to start with raw fish, and then it just seems right to have a vegetable course. Eventually I realized the menu naturally progresses through the elevation of where you harvest your food. We start with the sea, go to the soil, move to the surface and then poultry is the fourth course in the sky. So the S5 Menu is the basis of the revision. It's a tasting menu format, but that is the only restriction the dinners will ever have.
For the initial menu, you plan to turn desserts into savory dishes. How does that work?
Sometimes these menus will have a theme, and sometimes they won't, but for the first round, we're gonna do desserts. The menu is called Eat Your Dessert, and we base every course around traditional dessert flavors reinterpreted as savory courses. I think I've proven that I can [take] sweet and make it come across as savory. It was very successful in the Ice Cream for Dinner series, and people told me, “This is where you shine.” It's probably because I grew up with a sweet tooth, and as a Southerner, we tend to balance sweet and acidic [flavors] rather than sweet and spicy. Incorporating sweetness into food is something I've always done.
So you did this before the first pop-up series?
My first dish I remember being proud of was a duck with chocolate and cherry. People thought I was crazy and then said, "Oh my god, this actually works.” The same thing happened when I did scallops with curry and white chocolate. Whether you know who I am or not, how could anybody hear about reinterpreting desserts as savory courses and not be excited about it?
What are the keys to making this work?
Good food needs a reference point. Anybody can turn seaweed into an edible statue, but if there's no reference point, you won't feel fulfilled. So I'm taking stuff that everybody has a reference to, like carrot cake and churros, and reinterpreting carrot cake as a roasted carrot dish and the churro as a pork belly dish. You know the reference right away even if you don't know where you know it from.
We'll run it as long as it feels natural, and then within the Revision format, we can change it with no apologies. That's the deal. In any industry, but especially in the creative ones, people force themselves into boxes they think they should be in, and that's when you start to lose focus of what you can be. By alleviating ourselves of that, we're allowed to create what we feel is right at the time and stay away from stuff we don't wanna mess with.
How does it feel to be able to free yourself from a set menu?
It's everything. I opened The Flats because I wanted to show people that I could cook creative food that everybody understands, which was flatbread pizzas. You know what? I can cook a good flatbread. I can cure good meats. I can bake good bread. But that's not when I'm at my best. I’m at my best when I free myself from the shackles and just do what I think is right.
To be successful—to be financially successful—cooks must often do what everybody else is doing. If somebody told me, “Yeah, you can make a lot of money in cooking, but you can't be creative,” I would've told them to go fuck themselves. If I didn't wanna be creative, I would've continued to get my masters or doctorate in psychology, but I wanted to be creative. I don't wanna paint what everybody else is painting.
You use advanced techniques to elevate food. What is the challenge in finding the balance between the core flavor of the product and a creative elevation?
Well, the challenge is being able to have an honest conversation with yourself about why you're really doing something and if what you're doing really makes for a better product. I worked for a chef who's become very well known in Atlanta, and he was doing a lot of innovative techniques, but he was, at the time at least, doing them for technique's sake. When I came to Los Angeles, people wanted to label my food as molecular gastronomy, which is just a bullshit term anyway. I wanted to rebel against that term, but people saw certain techniques and didn't know what else to call it, and it painted this picture of something I didn't wanna be.
When that chef left Atlanta, I inherited another chef and it felt like going back to school—pickling, brazing, brining, curing, smoking—all the things that made food good for thousands of years. Working in the same kitchen under those two chefs helped me learn and grow and evolve organically. My food became a balance of the two. So to answer your question, it's about finding the balance, understanding what is going to make for the best final product, and understanding what you want that final product to be.
What would be an example from the current Revision menu?
The main course is a pork belly dish that's brined and roasted and features all the flavors of a churro. The first variation had whipped tequila, but it was clunky. It was technique for technique's sake, and I had to look at myself and say, “You know what? It's really cool and fun, but get it off the fucking plate.” Then I deglazed cipollini onions with tequila and a little bit of water and cooked those flavors down into the onions, and it's a 100 times better. You have to understand who you wanna be, what your food deserves to be, and then you have to find the most appropriate technique to make that happen.
Tell me about another dish on the menu.
The first course will be a raw hamachi crudo with all the flavors of red velvet [cake]. It's gonna have red beet vinegar, some glazed red beets and then some cocoa nibs. The fish will be dusted in vanilla powder, and we're gonna garnish it with an herbed cream-cheese. You're gonna have all the flavors and textures that you would normally have with a raw fish. You're gonna have acid. You're gonna have a little bit of fat. You're gonna have some crunch. But it's all tied back to the original red velvet, which was a cake sweetened and colored with beets because nobody could afford chocolate at the time.
We're also gonna have roasted carrots in an ode to carrot cake, which seems obvious, but we're gonna have a cream cheese vinegar and a crumble made of mostly yeast, some burnt brown sugar and then some candied pecans.
Considering the success of the ice cream series, can I assume you'll have an ice cream course?
I do not believe in desserts without ice cream. If I had a dessert that didn't have ice cream, I'd sneak it into a salad course. I'm obsessed with ice cream. The dessert will be a take on a banana split. I also want to explore a fun coffee service for the end of every meal. Right now, I'm really obsessed with the idea of serving a macaroon and a glass of hot water. You stir the cookie into the water, it dissolves, and you have a perfectly seasoned sweet cup of coffee. How fun is that? These are the things that really excite me.
Last question: How would you define yourself as a chef and how has that changed in the last few years?
My values as a chef have not necessarily changed, but they've become more clear: to be true to myself and always use good product. Honestly, I love animals. If I wasn't a chef, I would be a vegan. I only use animals that were treated with the most respect when they were alive. That is, by far, the most important thing to me. I have had offers to go places, but these places may or may not support those ideals, and that just doesn't make sense to me. If you don't care about how an animal lives, that's your deal, but I can tell you that a stress-free animal results in a much better flavor and texture. As a diner, you should want it.
Chef Schutte is offering a 10-percent discount to the first 20 people who use the code "prohbtd" when purchasing tickets to the pop-up.