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French chef elevating comfort food in Pasadena

August 05, 2011|By Esther Tseng
  • Chef Laurent Quenioux, the Executive Chef at Vertical Bistro in Pasadena, talks with a coworker as he stirs a buttery pastry dough on the stove in the restaurant kitchen on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. He is preparing for the evening dining at the restaurant. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Chef Laurent Quenioux, the Executive Chef at Vertical…

Unlike many of his chef brethren, Laurent Quenioux has not appeared on a single televised cooking show. To veterans of the L.A. dining scene, however, his name is no less familiar than the latest winner of ‘Top Chef.’ The French chef has warmed the bellies of adventurous diners with his unique pop-ups in Downtown L.A., as well his innovative cuisine at Bistro LQ, gaining a legion of followers almost as fanatic as reality TV junkies.

Recently, though, he’s returned to the kitchen at Vertical Bistro in Pasadena, a place he now calls home.

Quenioux moved to Los Angeles from France thirty years ago and hasn't left the city since.

Formerly a resident of the Hollywood Hills, he now lives in South Pasadena . He feels at ease in Southern California’s warm climate, and thrives in the heat of its kitchens. Having helmed Bistro K in the aughts, he’s finally boomeranged back to the area.Quenioux describes this move as a result of disillusionment with his former base along with a renewed love of the San Gabriel Valley.

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“Here [in Pasadena], people are casual, polite, beautiful, different. There's no lines, no traffic. People shake hands on the street. Totally not L.A.”

Anyone familiar with chef Quenioux, however, would regard his cooking as anything but homely. “Grilled steak, at the steakhouse, for example — I hate it. It's so unexciting. Where is the flavor?”

The sold-out success of this summer's Sunday through Tuesday nights at Downtown L.A.'s Starry Kitchen, dubbed “LQ@SK,” is indicative of a Bistro LQ audience which sorely misses its star. At the launch of LQ@SK, there was much buzz about tacos filled with escamoles, or ant larvae (to return at the end of the year). Diners at the latest series of LQ@SK nights ate scallops two ways (as tartar and sauteed) and kaffir consomme with sauteed foie gras and Dungeness crab.

While the avant garde style of Bistro K may have been a bit outlandish for mid-2000's Pasadena to swallow, Laurent is able to indulge the comfort-driven side of his split cooking personality given his appointment as executive chef of Vertical Bistro. “Starry Kitchen and Vertical Bistro are my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Quenioux muses.

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