Kings of Dude Food
As chef/owners of the widely acclaimed restaurants Animal and the seafood-centric Son of a Gun, Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo are anchors of the Los Angeles food scene. These rockstar chefs turned successful restaurateurs also recently opened Trois Mec with pop-up king Ludo Lefebvre, plus another project in the works. Dotolo and Shook talk about creative collaboration, working with Ludo and their ever-evolving roles in the kitchen.
AndrewZimmern.com: You’ve been working together for more than a decade now. How did your partnership begin?
Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo: When we first met, the bond was not the food restaurant bond, but more so the fact that we came from similar backgrounds and lifestyles. We had some of the same teenage problems and desires to explore and have fun. Once school kicked into gear, we both knew it was our calling. We started to set some goals for us to obtain and reach together.
AZ.com: What’s the best part of collaboration? Any challenges?
JS & VD: The best part of the collaboration is that we have somebody to lean on during the good times and the bad times. The challenge is that we are two separate people and there is always give and take in any partnership. There are lots of challenges and lots of hurdles. However, the end goal is the same for both of us and now with Ludo. Compromise is key. Not to compromise integrity, but to try to meet in the middle or find something everyone’s excited about and go with that.
AZ.com: How would you describe your roles in the kitchen now that you’re running several restaurants in LA?
JS & VD: We are involved more on the restaurateur side of things, but still very involved. We might not be making the stock every day, but we are there to make sure it tastes the way we want it to. Our roles are constantly changing depending on what the needs are for each restaurant. Even with two of us we can’t be everywhere but we have a great team around us. We actually have lives outside of the restaurants, which we believe to be healthy.
AZ.com: What’s the story behind the restaurant you opened with Ludo Lefebvre, Trois Mec?
JS & VD: Ludo is one of the most talented people in LA. He needed a restaurant and LA needed him to have a restaurant. We loved his food at all the Ludo Bites and did some really fun dinners together. We thought it would be fun and different to do something together.
AZ.com: And we hear there’s another project in the works across the street from Animal. Can you share any details?
JS & VD: We are excited about the new project, but don’t have many details yet. We are working with an architect named Jeff Guga who we are really excited to work with. The new space will become our corporate headquarters, where we will be running all of our offsite production as well as some kind of restaurant.
AZ.com: You’ve recently partnered with SweeTango, a new apple variety that’s a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar. What are a few good pairings or recipe ideas?
JS & VD: The SweeTango apple is really delicious and versatile, with a great crunch and acidity. It also grows to a great size. It is good to eat raw, baked in a pie, turned into a salad or made into a soup! Check out their website for recipes.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
JS & VD: In Jon’s, there’s baby food and assorted fruits and vegetables. In Vinny’s, there’s juice boxes for the kid, tea, yogurt, cheese, lots of condiments and jellies from all over the country, pickles, apples, carrots, thyme, eggs, and berries.
Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo are Los Angeles-based chef-entrepreneurs who blend innovative and seasonal cooking with ambitious dining experiences. They opened Animal restaurant in June 2008 to widespread acclaim. Since then the duo has been awarded some of the most prominent national accolades including Food & Wine Best New Chefs, three James Beard nominations, Rising Star Chefs by Star Chefs, Wine List of the Year by GQ Magazine, and one of the Most Important Restaurants in America by Bon Appetit. Their second restaurant, Son of a Gun, opened in February 2011 and was named one of Bon Apetit’s Top 10 New Restaurants for 2012 and Details magazine’s hottest restaurant in the world. They also operate a full service catering company, and their cookbook Two Dudes One Pan was voted one of NPR’s “10 Best Cookbooks of 2008.” They have been covered in numerous publications, including, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, The New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, Garden and Gun, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine magazine, and have appeared on The Morning Show, Last Call with Carson Daly, Iron Chef America, judges on Top Chef, The Layover with Anthony Bourdain, Best Thing I Ever Ate, and NPR’s Good Eats. Just prior to opening Animal the duo starred in their own reality show called Two Dudes Catering on the Food Network. They met while attending culinary school at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, where they worked for a number of prominent chefs before making their way out west. Most recently they partnered with Ludo Lefebvre to launch his first brick and mortar restaurant Trois Mec.