Veteran chef Kyle Schutte is a PRØHBTD fave who pushed himself to new heights with his latest project, The FLATS, on the eastern edge of Beverly Hills. The 2014 Cutthroat Kitchen winner famously pushes the boundaries of culinary innovation, but The FLATS packages next-gen gastronomy in user-friendly ways that bring all levels of gastronomes to the table. The result is a concept with the farm-to-table commitment of a Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the bold ingenuity of an Alinea and the casual atmosphere of The Spotted Pig. No matter how positive the associations, however, Schutte likely hates any comparison as he's clearly intent on forging his own unique culinary identity.
What is the concept behind The FLATS?
Throughout my career, I've often heard my food is unapproachable or too intellectual. Not that I'm dumbing it down, but I wanted to go with unapologetically approachable food, and what's more approachable than pizza. I thought, if we lure people in and make them believe it's a super-safe concept, maybe they'll venture outside the box a little bit. Maybe we'll make them feel safe enough to try something they normally wouldn't, so while it might just be a pizza place to some, it's actually a really rebellious concept.
What are examples of what makes it rebellious?
On the small plate side of the menu, I thought, "What staples would you get on a normal pizza menu?" Bread and butter, but I wanted to flip that on its head. We do a caramelized baguette we make in house with half rice flour and literally top it with caramel, and we serve it with cola salt and rendered bone marrow in lieu of the butter. That is intentionally the very first thing on the menu. It's something people think they know, but then it's smacking them in the face saying, "No, this is not what you thought it was. Get ready. Fasten your seatbelts."
That concept echoes through to the fried mozzarella sticks and our charcuterie program. We cure all of our own meats and put untraditional flavors in them. We're doing bresaola [salted meat], but it's a pho-cured bresaola, and we're doing guanciale, but it's a root beer guanciale. I'm trying to embrace the non-foodies, but at the same time, I'm telling the people who said my food is unapproachable to take notice.
Tell me about the fried mozzarella.
We pull all our own fresh cheeses here, and we're making three kinds of ricotta, two burratas and two mozzarellas. For the [fried] mozzarella, the flavors are a take on peanut butter and jelly. Think of the mozzarella as the Wonder Bread—this creamy, scrumptious thing that's the vessel for everything else. Then we make a peanut tempura, which is what we fry the mozzarella in, and we boil peanuts and use the water to make a peanut ponzu, and we do a powdered peanut butter on top. Then we make a really nice grape jelly with pectin and that's laced with a ton of wine that we reduce down, and we put some cilantro flowers on top. Again, very out of the box, but it's also traditional flavors presented in a new way. I mean, who doesn't like peanut butter and jelly?
You referred to the flatbreads as pizza, but wouldn't you say it's much more than that?
Saying pizza is like saying pasta: Everybody has a different vision. If you asked me about my favorite pizza from childhood, I would think of a Chicago-style deep dish near my grandma's house in Wisconsin or one from my hometown that was super local New York style. Those two pizzas are totally different interpretations of the same thing. Part of [calling it pizza] is defining what we're serving, but it is more youthful and edgy and millennial. The flatbread is crispy on the bottom, and it's got a nice chew, and it's just more who I am as a chef. I would never open a pizza place.
What cultural influences do you see in the flatbreads?
The cultural influence throughout the menu is fun American, all the way. The flatbreads are broken down into old school and new school. For the old school, I want somebody like my dad, who knows nothing about food and doesn't appreciate it on any level, to come in and grab a great pepperoni pizza and a beer. The difference is that the dough was made here, the sauce was made here, the pepperoni was made here and the cheese was made here. I don't know anywhere else in L.A. where that's the case.
The flavors in the pepperoni pizza are super traditional, and you know exactly what you're eating, but then there's the new school side of the menu. Other places certainly aren't serving a fried chicken pizza with pink lemonade mozzarella or a poutine flatbread or a tomato-kimchi flatbread. If they were, I'd have no interest in doing it. What's the point in doing something that other people have done? Even our traditional flatbreads are really fun. Our chorizo flatbread is based on Spain, but instead of a traditional Spanish roasted red pepper, we brought in some Peruvian sweet drop peppers and charred them, and we made a charred onion oil that we drizzle on the top. These are the touches that really matter.
You said you wanted the menu to be more approachable.
I want to give the illusion of being more approachable—that's really what this place is.
What's the dish where you said fuck it, I'm going all the way, and I don't care if it's approachable?
The front of the menu is laced with those. We braised our octopus in squid ink, and it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting when it hits your table. There's also the charred calamari. Nobody's going to order California cut wild squid, so we called it charred calamari, but it comes with cured pineapple, smoked mayonnaise and toasted Fresnos. It looks like a painting come to life—an unapologetically scatter-brained painting where colors are thrown against a canvas hoping it becomes one of those pretentious paintings you see everywhere. We serve our Caesar salad with anchovy and Parmesan donut holes.
Yeah, the menu has this undertone of "I don't give a fuck." Obviously we give a ton of fucks, but it's just how we present ourselves. I guess I wanted to prove that I could seem more approachable, but it is very much a magic show. You think you know what you're in for, you think it's a flatbread restaurant, but I promise you, even our meatballs are like, "Shit, what just happened?" It's a monochromatic plate with a soubise on the bottom that doesn't look like a hell of a lot, but it hits you, and you're in another world.
As the restaurant grows and develops, the traditional flatbreads are going to be pretty stagnant because tradition is tradition, but the rest of the menu is going to change all the time. I know what I like, and I know how I want to present myself, and I think I know what my diners like, but if somebody wants to hate, they can hate. I put that shit in the rear-view mirror a long time ago.
PRØHBTD previously interviewed you about your ice cream tasting menu that included flavors like uni-topped sushi rice ice cream and lemongrass with pork belly. What can we expect with the ice cream here?
I always play around with ice creams—I love them—and we obviously have ice cream that's less traditional. We have a dessert with a beet sorbet, which is just beet, a tiny bit of simple syrup and some mint. We also have a lamb carpaccio with frozen yogurt and a fennel and citrus salad with peach vinegar and white honey sorbet. You see the sorbet and think it's sweet, but it's acidic, and this thing will punch you in the mouth. It is meant to be the dressing for the salad, and people love it. Also, the cold sorbet helps keep the fennel crisp as you eat it. There are no gimmicks here—it's all meant for a reason. We also have whole grain mustard ice cream on our charcuterie board so these things are throughout the menu.
What's something creative you do with your signature cocktails?
We have the slushy machine over there that, when we opened, served an amazing drink with Elyx vodka, kimchi and pineapple. We have a tequila drink with St. George coffee liqueur, and we garnish it with chocolate-covered espresso beans.It gets you jacked up and really tired all at the same time. The cocktail program and the food are going to change with the seasons. Pete [Capella], our bar director, runs that side of things, but I don't mind my manners: I give my input even when it's not wanted. We work well together.
What do you do for fun?
Man, what do I do for fun? I have a ball doing anything with animals, which is contradictory to what I'm doing in here. When I was working at a seafood restaurant, I came to the conclusion that God's gonna be a lobster, and when I die, he's going to throw me into a pot of boiling water for all eternity because of how many lobsters I cooked.
Anything else you want to add?
I want to get across that this place is really an exercise in rebellion. Not everybody appreciates a sculpture, not everybody appreciates music, not everybody appreciates paintings, but everybody has a flavor or a smell in their minds that speaks tothem, that takes them back to a better time and place. If we can strike that chord with people, we're good. That's all I want to do. That's why I love cooking. For me, it's the perfect combination of art and science, so if you can get that reaction, you've struck a chord, and they're gonna remember that meal.
I don't sit up at night wondering how to make food differently. It's not intellectual, it's instinctual, and this is what's in me begging to come out. Every time a dish leaves the kitchen, it's a piece of me being presented, something I want to share. I do want my dad to be able to have the best pepperoni pizza of his life, but I'm capable of more than that, so when someone says my food is too this or too that, it's like, "Go fuck yourself." I talk a big game—I don't really want to say "fuck you" to anybody—but for someone who's skeptical or just not a foodie, I can give them that pepperoni pizza, and maybe we can have a conversation about the fried mozzarella. I want to open up a dialogue. Maybe if I put my ego aside and accept that some people find my food unapproachable, maybe I'll gain their trust enough that we can have the conversation I want to have with them. That's really what The FLATS is all about.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.