After his dismissal from Top Chef’s seventh season, Brooklyn-bred toque Alex Reznik packed his knives and left Ivan Kane’s flashy Hollywood attraction Cafe Was to help open La Seine, a contemporary fine-dining restaurant that adheres to strict kosher standards. For a chef who tells us, “I love all things pork — I think the pig is the greatest animal ever,” this concept obviously presents some built-in challenges. “Every day they walk in and I say, How am I going to do something new and exciting without using cream or butter or pork?” Reznik says. “But I do have the entire market to work with.” Tomorrow night, the chef is hosting a benefit to give 100 percent of La Seine’s sushi sales to Japanese relief efforts. But today, he’s sharing everything he’s had to eat and drink over the past week for this edition of L.A. Diet.
Wednesday, March 16
Every morning, I do some push-ups and have the same thing: probiotic yogurt, vitamins, and just a big glass of water. I stopped drinking coffee a few years ago. I decided I needed to give up a vice, and I was drinking 30 to 60 ounces of coffee a day. And I’m like, I don’t wanna give up alcohol, I don’t wanna give up this, I don’t wanna give up that, so I’m gonna give up coffee.
Wednesday is a different day because that’s when I go to the [Santa Monica] farmers’ market. Over there I got to try some pluots, some of the Harry’s Berries — which were delicious as always — different kinds of oranges that are in season and delicious, and a bunch of other things. Like at McGrath Farms, they have so much great stuff. Being in Santa Monica, I decided to go to Bay Cities and had a spicy “Godmother” sandwich and ate it on the way to work with one of those cherry sodas. You just have to do that; it’s so gluttonous, but so good.
So I went straight to work. I always joke that when I grow up, I wanna be a chef, so I can eat standing up over a sink. That’s how it is. Most of my meals, I’m standing over the sink with a little plate and fork, just shoveling. I had some inspiration from the market and did this version of a Japanese seviche. It had bigeye tuna, albacore, yellowtail, and kumquats. I pickle the ginger myself and put some pickled ginger in there with some fresh yuzu juice. So I was snacking on that while I was creating it and that was pretty much my meal. After the Bay Cities, you know, you can’t really eat much more than that.
Then at night, I had a glass of kosher wine at the bar. Kosher wine is not my favorite, but there is some really good kosher wine, like the Baron Herzog Lodi Syrah, which is the only Baron Herzog I like.
Thursday, March 17
I had some yogurt and went straight to work — an early start because Thursday’s my long day. A few hours later, around noon, I was working with short ribs and starving. When you’re working with short ribs, there’s always scraps, so I made a scrap sandwich. I put it on these slider rolls that I quickly baked up and made an aioli and added some roasted tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, and a quail egg. It was amazing. When I make myself food I don’t mess around. I made one for everyone in the kitchen and we all just pounded them down. Then I had a little salad.
At around eleven, I realized I didn’t really eat anything all day, just the slider and that salad. I forget to eat all the time. There are days when I’m driving home that I go, Aww, I didn’t eat anything today and I’m not going to Taco Bell. I’m not doing it. And my fridge is a barren fridge, just water, juice, yogurt, and at times, maybe a bottle of Champagne. So when I left, I made myself a dish I call “chicken nanban” to go. It’s chicken breast that we dip into a special sauce and then it’s fried and goes with our hot sauce, pea shoots, and sesame, and it’s delicious. I took that home and then, like at twelve o’clock that night, I was sitting on the couch eating that with a bottle of Gavroche beer.
Friday, March 18
I had some yogurt and juice and went to work. On Friday, my sous chef doesn’t come in because we’re actually closed. The seafood that comes in on Fridays, he doesn’t check it in, I do. So I had to test all the fish and had some yellowtail, a couple of slices of bigeye, a couple of slices of the kampachi, just raw, a couple slices, to make sure everything is super-fresh, tasty, and the quality is there.
Then I took the early out and my manager and I went to a place called Baby Blues just around the corner. And over there we had a healthy lunch. We had a couple shots of Evan Williams and a couple of Shiner Bocks. I had the fried green tomatoes, barbecued ribs, and their sweet potato fries. This was early, at like noon. So then I took a nap and went for a run. Then I went out to a friend’s Shabbat dinner. They had roasted chicken, some corned beef, potato salad, and to drink, I was good, so just seltzer water.
Saturday, March 19
My friend Annie, she’s raw vegan, and she makes and bottles this kefir and dropped it off, so that’s what I had in the morning. It’s not the milk-based kefir, but it’s made from wheat or something and it’s really good for you. After that, I had to go on a hike and a run with my dog up Runyon Canyon. Then I had a Power Bar and went to the gym. That was pretty much it for lunch.
Then I went to work and used the halibut that had just come in on Friday. I did that with fiddlehead ferns, roasted tomato coulis, fresh garbanzo beans, and I pickled some spring onions and nibbled on that as I made it. Cafe Was was a more Hollywood-driven restaurant where people wanted the same food that they came for, like a burger, and we did have a really good burger, but it wasn’t like I could go to the market and get fiddleheads and stinging nettles and have people appreciate them. They didn’t care if it was a hedgehog mushroom or a hen of the woods mushroom. They just wanted mushroom bisque. At this restaurant, I can’t do so many things with meat and I can’t have so many varieties of seafood, because they’re not kosher, that I really am produce-driven.
Saturday night was my friend’s birthday, so we decided to head out to the Roosevelt and have some amazing cocktails prepared by Matt and company. I don’t remember their names, but I remember we had one that was cucumber-based and one that was kumquat-based, which were both delicious and thoughtful. They do great cocktails there. And we followed it up with a seedy Thai restaurant in Thai Town. I don’t remember the name, but just remember having some greasy Thai food at 2:30 in the morning that really hit the spot.
Sunday, March 20
Went for a run with the dog. It was kinda raining, but I powered through it and went straight to work and grabbed a Power Bar there. I was working on a few things on Sunday like our sweet breads, which we do nugget-style. So while I was making those, I had to test a few, just a few.
Then I was working on a Bottarga pasta with handmade spinach linguine and stinging nettles and baby purple artichokes. I shave Bottarga on top and it’s amazing. The natural smokiness of the Bottarga, people think it’s bacon and are like I don’t wanna eat that, then at the end of the day they’re like, that’s delicious. With that, I had Voss sparkling water. I steal a bottle from the bar all the time. It pisses my general manager off.
I also made a new dessert, a strawberry and blueberry bread pudding, and I made a sorbet with raspberries. I snacked on two of those. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but every once and a while, I make something like that and can’t stop.
Monday, March 21
I went straight to work early in the morning because I’d implemented a few new menu items. I changed our bread service to a matzoh service. Prior to that, we were doing regular bread service, buying breads and serving it with a compound butter, or in our case, a compound margarine. I felt like that didn’t really have character. I don’t wanna buy things from anyone. When you first open a restaurant, you have to make sacrifices. But we can make everything. So I was snacking on matzoh all morning and serving it with a dipping sauce that is extra virgin olive oil, herbs, and garlic. That was pretty much breakfast and lunch, ‘cause making matzoh is time-consuming.
Then I made myself a beet salad. My sous chef was roasting up some beets, so I just threw together a beet salad with beautiful wild arugula and a red wine vinaigrette. And I just had water. I drink a lot of water. I’ll probably go through six glasses a day. It’s really good for you. Then that night, I saw a good friend of mine, Amanda Baumgarten, the chef over at Water Grill. She came by and we ate some fruit at the restaurant and some bone marrow and sweetbreads and corned beef tongue, and some sushi rolls.
Then we were still hungry, and not wanting to eat any more of my own food, we decided to go to Animal. Animal is one of the best restaurants on the West Coast. Jon and Vinny are always at the market on Wednesdays and you can tell their stuff is super-fresh and their execution is phenomenal. And their menu is the complete opposite of my menu. Ninety-five percent of their menu I cannot use at my restaurant. We had the pork belly sliders, baby-back ribs, chorizo dip, foie gras on biscuits with gravy, just all these things that are not kosher. You know, when I leave the restaurant, sometimes I crave non-kosher.