Animal Instincts

The New Yorker and Top Chefs Alike Love Animal

Animal's oxtail poutine: Mario Batali ordered five
Animal’s oxtail poutine: Mario Batali ordered five Photo: Hadley Tomicki

Next This week The New Yorker publishes a story on Animal’s founders/chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Even though they’re referred to in the first sentence as “the Bill and Ted of the Los Angeles culinary scene,” it’s clear the magazine is in awe of the toque-less toques who make “expertly prepared junk food made from exquisite ingredients” in a city of supposed “juice fasts, tonics, and brown-rice cleanses.” But they’re not the only ones who go crazy for the two dudes.

Among Animal’s fans are this season’s Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, who comes by about once a month and is fond of the biscuits with maple-sausage gravy and foie gras. He deems Animal’s eats, ““gnarly big plates of food where each dish has three thousand calories,” whereas chef Akasha Richmond simply calls Animal’s cooking “bad-ass food.” San Fran chef Nate Appleman adds his own feeling that, “They’re really pushing the limits.They had a dish on the menu that was thirty duck hearts in curry. It was hard even for me to get through.” And while Mario Batali’s virgin visit was greeted with at least one (and often five) of everything on the menu, Bouchon chef Rory Hermann was served lamb brain, shortly after Dotolo obtained it with the whack of an axe, rather than a hacksaw.

We learn that not everyone is a fan though, nor is Ilan Hall the first chef to rodger the hell out of Jewish food with not-so-kosher ingredients. Shook was raised in a Jewish family in Orlando and like Hall, he seems to get off on shocking neighbors like Canter’s and his own diners alike. He recalls the time he explained what head cheese is to a South Beach matron who spit it out and cried,” “Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years.” Shook’s response? “Not any more you ain’t?”

From two broke Floridians sleeping on the couch of screenwriter Melissa Mathison to raging successes of whom The New Yorker teases, “a second restaurant seems imminent, though they are cagey about their plans,” Animal gets the same kind of cross-coast love and obsession that the magazine showed Jonathan Gold in the fall, Saveur graced L.A. with in the new year, and that continues to destroy old stereotypes of “brown-rice cleanses.” Shook knows the city and its diners well, even the pretty girls munching on foie in the corner. “You think about L.A. and it’s, like, the junkfood capital—doughnuts, hamburgers.” Ah yes, and oxtail poutine and chocolate bacon, thanks to these perpetually rising stars and what the mag calls its “junk food.”

Killer Food [The New Yorker]

The New Yorker and Top Chefs Alike Love Animal