the grub street diet

David Gelb Dreams of Pizza

“Legendary pizza for both breakfast and lunch — not bad.”

“It was a very formative moment for me,” David Gelb says of going to Wolfgang Puck’s Spago when he was a kid. Photo: Maggie Shannon
“It was a very formative moment for me,” David Gelb says of going to Wolfgang Puck’s Spago when he was a kid. Photo: Maggie Shannon

It’s not an exaggeration to say that David Gelb has shaped this current moment of food television. His documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Netflix series Chef’s Table ushered in an era of prestige, high-gloss food productions that have been widely imitated (and even lovingly parodied by Bill Hader and Fred Armisen), and also led to Gelb’s latest show, Street Food. It’s no surprise food has always figured largely into Gelb’s life. “I was obsessed with the flavor of sushi rice and soy sauce and all that,” he says of himself at an age when most kids are still hesitantly sussing out jelly. While he tries to keep it low-key in his daily life in Los Angeles to balance out all the eating for his job, sometimes burgers can’t be avoided. Especially when it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and he found himself hosting a special party, eating at his old favorite Spago, and being treated to his mother-in-law’s “famous” jambalaya. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Friday, May 24
Woke up early, on a location scout. Even though we were scouting restaurants, I wasn’t sure when I would have a chance to eat. There was just enough time to make a simple breakfast: fried egg on avocado toast with a butter lettuce salad with my mom’s vinaigrette recipe. It’s not a complicated recipe: diced shallots, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and olive oil.

My mom is a recipe chef — she worked on both of Francis Mallmann’s cookbooks, and contributed to Saladish — and she gave me her love of home cooking and many recipes. She makes the most delicious sauteed potatoes that we cook sometimes, she taught me this recipe for swordfish with anchovy butter that we love to make, this Marcella Hazan recipe for a scallop pasta. There are so many.

Got to location for the scout at 10 a.m., at Spago for a yet-to-be-announced project. We walked around the space planning shots, and then to our delight, out came one of Wolfgang Puck’s famous smoked salmon pizzas! This pie ushered in the era of gourmet California pizza, but fabled history aside, it was a welcome surprise for breakfast for the crew.

My wife and I go here for special occasions. Sometimes if I’m in Beverly Hills for lunch, I’ll pop in there for lunch. It’s something I have a personal connection to because my dad used to take me there anytime we would go to L.A. We would get these tuna cones, this off-menu hors d’oeuvre that’s so awesome. I remember Wolfgang coming to every single table; I know he still does it today. I felt like he knew me, you know? Even though he can’t remember every person he’s shaking hands with. I remember he once joked to me, “Oh, you’re having the Wiener schnitzel, are you Austrian?” It was a very formative moment for me. That was the first time I’d met a chef or felt personally connected to a chef. I’ve always been a big fan of his, and the restaurant is great. The executive chef, Tetsu Yahagi, is awesome.

Going to a restaurant like Spago with my dad wasn’t unusual. Both my parents are really into food. Starting when I was really little, I would travel around with both of them and they would take me to really great restaurants around the world. They never relegated me to the kids’ table or just left me with the nanny. They introduced me to this world of food, and I stayed in there.

Next location on the scout was the “Mozza-plex,” Nancy Silverton’s trio of Italian restaurants on the corner of Melrose and Highland. We moved through the space taking pictures, and at the end were a couple fennel sausage pizzas and a tricolore salad that we had ordered at Mozza2Go right when we got there. I’m obsessed with both the homemade fennel sausage as well the anchovy dressing in the salad.

Legendary pizza for both breakfast and lunch — not bad. At least I had a salad to balance it out.

This weekend, we happened to be throwing my wife Christine’s baby shower. Her mother, sister, and friends were visiting from out of town, so we decided to take them to APL steakhouse in Hollywood, not far from our place in Beachwood Canyon. I craved a delicious dry-aged steak, deep with flavor, and APL didn’t disappoint. The chef greeted us with two thick rib eye cuts, each aged 79 days. They were rich and beefy, one cooked to a flawless medium rare, and the other a bit more rare so we could taste more of the dry aging. We drank a magnum after it had been decanted for a couple of hours, a recommendation from the Beverly Hills Wine Merchant, which I popped into earlier in the day in between locations on the scout.

Saturday, May 25
It was pandemonium in the morning, getting everything set up for a baby shower that would end up as more of a party for all of our friends than a formal event. I ordered a pound of smoked Nova Scotia salmon and a dozen bagels from the Bagel Broker as a staff meal of sorts.

We then ordered a ton of tacos from Tacos El Gavilan, dressed simply with cilantro, chopped onion, and lime, accompanied with blended lime margaritas from a rented margarita machine from Cindy’s Jumpers.

I’m obsessed with taco-truck-style tacos. Gavilan is a brick-and-mortar, but it has that style. When I was younger, just a few years ago, I’d do more work on the east side, so I’d always go to the Taco Zone taco truck, and these kind of remind me of that. I love Mariscos Jalisco too. The fried-shrimp tacos are incredible; those are my favorite.

Leftovers were cooked into quesadillas for dinner. The shells were so oily, we just took some tortillas and threw some ingredients in there with some cheese. Cooked those in a pan.

Sunday, May 26
After a quick breakfast of granola from Big Sur Bakery leftover from a recent trip, I was off to a regular tennis match we have going at a friends house. Ended up playing for three hours, and was starving on the way home. Stopped at the In-N-Out on Ventura Boulevard near Universal City. Double-Double with grilled onions and ketchup is the usual for me. Never lets me down.

Look, I love In-N-Out and I like the fries. I like seeing that they were a potato just moments ago. Something seems very humble and real to me. And I just like the burger. It tastes clean. I don’t feel sick after eating it, like with a lot of other fast food. I started going on my own. My dad would never go to In-N-Out. He likes to brag that he’s never had a Big Mac before, although I don’t believe him.

For dinner, Christine’s mother, the Honorable Judge Bernadette D’Souza, cooked for us at home. She was visiting from New Orleans, and offered to make us her famous jambalaya with andouille sausage she had brought with her from home. It’s this very special andouille made by a friend of Christine’s father. They have the hookup, and she always brings up an extra sausage or two.

There’s sort of a ritual about her making this dish; I think emotionally it’s really satisfying and powerful. All of Christine’s friends, whether they’re from New Orleans or school, get excited. It becomes a celebration. “Oh, Bernadette is going to make a jambalaya.” She has a way with spice. It may come from her Indian cooking, but she’s just a master of that and brings a little bit of it into her jambalaya. She’s just a wonderful cook, and has taught us a number of recipes, from Goa in India, where she is originally from, as well as her current home in New Orleans. We do a shrimp with yellow rice that’s really tasty, just turmeric and other spices that we toss the shrimp in — she has this spice combo that she give us. We do a pork vindaloo that’s really tasty, and there’s a cabbage dish that she does that melts in your mouth. But her Jambalaya is the favorite. Not a grain of rice remained.

Monday, May 27
Breakfast was at Beachwood Cafe. The only restaurant in walking distance in the canyon is, fortunately, a friendly spot with a nice eggs, toast, and bacon combo and strong coffee to boot. Really, it’s the walking culture that’s the main thing I miss about New York. The close proximity of Chinatown, just being able to walk into things. Also, just being able to get a BEC at a bodega. In L.A. you kind of have to always know where you’re going and drive there. I love the San Gabriel Valley, but it’s a schlep. It’s hard to make it part of your day unless you’re making a whole day of it.

I went to Petit Trois Valley for lunch. I’ve always loved the simple French stylings of Petit Trois, so I was excited when it opened this larger and easier-to-get-into location on Ventura, and my wife and I have made it a regular hangout. Had a refreshing Boston lettuce salad, along with the “Big Mec” — which my dad has also never had; I haven’t taken him here. It’s a powerful burger drowned in Bordelaise sauce. Took a lot of napkins, but it was delicious. It’s like a crime scene. The spectacle of it, Ludo likes that.

I ate a lot of meat these few days because it just happened to be Memorial Day weekend and we had family in town. But I try to cook a lot of vegetables and be healthy — I have a framed drawing of Alain Passard with a glowing red beet — and I try not to go out to restaurants too much when I’m in L.A. Just on the weekends. It’s kind of out of necessity because when we’re working and traveling we have to eat everything.

So, we have a simple tradition at the end of any weekend, in this case the long weekend: Roast a Jidori chicken at home, using the recipe from Alice Waters’s essential book The Art of Simple Food with just garlic and herbs tucked under the skin and into the cavity, roasted at 400 degrees for an hour. You turn the chicken upside down after 20 minutes, then back right side up after 40 minutes. We served that with some branched green beans, and save the remains for chicken noodle soup for Tuesday. Our recipe for that is pretty simple, just separate the meat (to add back in at the end) and cover whatever is left of the chicken with water and simmer it for a long time with vegetables and garlic. For noodles, we might use orzo or penne or whatever dried pasta we have around. It’s nice to have something to look forward to.

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