After cooking at Clean Plates-approved Wilshire for the better part of 4 years, Andrew Kirschner of Next Iron Chef fame built his dream restaurant, Tar & Roses. The new space in his Santa Monica hometown serves local, mainly organic food, has a cozy neighborhood vibe and a newly opened, sunny patio. We chatted with Kirschner about sustainable sourcing, his L.A. roots and recent obsession with wood-fired ovens.
Q: Why has sourcing local ingredients been important to you over the years
A: Everybody wins: the environment, the local economy, and the customer. It comes down to a moral question that chefs and restaurateurs need to ask themselves. You really notice the quality, the flavor and the freshness of unadulterated produce, it tastes a hundred times better. For me it’s all about cooking great food, but if you’re smart about your business there are still plenty of ways to turn a profit — even if the produce costs slightly more.
Q: You’ve shopped at the Santa Monica Farmers Market for years. Do you have any tips the home cook could use to make the most of the experience?
A: Be present at the market and introduce yourself to the farmers. They all love to talk about their product. The more excited the consumer is, the more excited the farmers get.
Q: You’re a native Angeleno. How has that helped shape your culinary perspective?
A: I was raised a Californian so I was exposed to all the agriculture the state has to offer. Growing up close to the market, I always had my eye on the produce. California is a great melting pot of all kinds of different cultures and flavors.
Q: How did the experience on Next Iron Chef help you evolve in the kitchen?
A: I don’t think it brought anything out in terms of untapped cooking skills. It was TV, it was a lot of fun, but I don’t think that it did anything for me culinarily. You become close with everyone that’s there, so the great takeaway for me was forging those relationships. It was a really fun opportunity to work with other great chefs from around the country.
Q: You use the natural flavors of wood and char in your dishes. Are Italian pizza ovens near and dear to your heart?
A: It’s as primal of a cooking technique as there is. I love cooking over raw heat and wood while camping, so it was a mission to use that. The wood varies, but it’s primarily almond and walnut and white oak. I think the smell and the feeling of a fire really warms up the restaurant.
Photos courtesy of Tar & Roses.