Chef profile: Gjelina’s Travis Lett
Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice Beach’s main drag, is one of LA’s priciest stretches of real estate. Restaurant space goes for about $8 a square foot. As such, I expected more style over substance from the neighborhood’s food scene.
So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Gjelina. The always-crowded restaurant isn’t exactly a secret, but I wonder how many people realize they’re eating at one of Los Angeles’ premier farm-to-table restaurants.
The restaurant, and the recently opened take-out counter next door, don’t trumpet their organic produce and the small farms they support. Chef Travis Lett lets the food do that talking. And judging by the crowds, people are listening. They do as many as 1,000 covers a day on a menu in which vegetables get a starring role. The meat and fish shine as well. Lett has plans to open another restaurant in Hollywood, too.
I chatted with Lett recently in the leafy courtyard next to his restaurant. Here are a few nuggets from our conversation:
“You won’t see a Sysco truck at my restaurant or any of the commodity food system vehicles out here. My partners and I make less money because we spend so much on the raw ingredients, but we’ve developed a community of people that are really interested in that but at the end of the day we’re not too concerned about the spreadsheet thing. We’re not really that concerned about that. We’re just trying to make the right choices and we’ve achieved great popularity.”
“I try not to talk about organic or sustainable. I call it the O and S word. They’re good words and have real meaning but I try not to use them. I try to let the energy of the food to engage people and then try to back into it and say, ’hey you know why that cauliflower tastes so good? Because this guy right there grew it and he’s at the bottom of the Sierra and he gets this great run off and it’s the season for cauliflower right now.’”
“I allow the reaction to based more on the joy of eating. I’m trying to find other ways to introduce people to that world so it’s not perceived as an elitist thing or as something for the wealthy.”