Recently LA Chef Column sat down with Scratch Bar’s executive chef Phillip Franklin Lee for a quick conversation to learn more about Lee’s food and where it comes from. Below is that conversation.
LAC: How would you describe your style of cooking?
PFL: Minimal yet thoughtful
LAC: Did you grow up in a family of cooks and or chefs?
PFL: My father cooked dinner every night growing up.
LAC: Did you grow up in the LA region? If no, where were you raised?
PFL: I was born at Cedars Sinai, in Los Angeles, about 1 block from Scratch|Bar
LAC: Are there any memorable food experiences from your childhood or youth that helped shape your cooking style?
PFL: Visiting Holland when I was 16, I smuggled back 3 wheels of cheese.
LAC: Is there any one person who influenced your decision to become a chef?
PFL: My father suggested I go to sushi school when I was 13, because I bought a few books and was trying to roll sushi at home for dinner.
LAC: Did you go to culinary school? If yes, where did you go?
PFL: I went to Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and dropped out after a few months
LAC: Where have been some of the places you’ve worked, and with what chefs?
PFL: Executive Chef at the following, D’Cache, Wolf Cuisine/Sous chef at the following: Hatfield’s, Stefan’s at LA Farm, Park grill
LAC: What have you taken away from each of these chefs and places?
PFL: I learned most technique from Quinn at Hatfields, I learned how to order and do inventory and food cost at LA Farm, and I learned how to write menus and manage a team while implementing new dishes at Park Grill
LAC: Any notable stages you’ve had?
PFL: l20, Aline, Providence
LAC: Any good stories or anecdotes from any of the places you’ve worked or staged?
PFL: Michael Cimarusti yelled at me for being messy and threw my cutting board at the wall, I remember going back to my paying job and bragging to friends as if it were like the coolest thing that ever happened. I also watched Grant Achatz break down a tree… Literally.
LAC: Would you say your culinary perspective and style was more shaped by your upbringing, training or both?
PFL: Both, My mom took me out every night for fancy dinner when I was a kid, and my dad cooked every night, so I got to see both sides of the spectrum. I have also worked in restaurants ranging from casual breakfast spots to places with 3 Michelin stars.
LAC: Were there any places you’ve worked or staged that may have been interesting, but didn’t coincide with the direction you want or wanted to take your food?
PFL: every place has had an impact, no matter how small.
LAC: Have there been any other memorable experiences that you’ve had that have helped shape your culinary style and perspective?
PFL: I’m a drummer first, and I think writing music for most of my life really helps shape the way I come up with dishes or write tasting menus.
LAC: What about travels to other countries and experiencing other food, has this impacted your cooking style?
PFL: I spent a few months is Lima Peru when I was 19, as well as some time is Holland, both really inspired me.
LAC: How do you see your skills as a chef evolving?
PFL: I am now more of a coach than a cook, and I see that as an advantage, where I used to not.
LAC: How do you see your cuisine evolving?
PFL: I’m calming down a bit and becoming more focused. My food used to be MUCH more complicated.
LAC: What are you doing to further develop your skills and cuisine?
PFL: I’m constantly learning. From everyone and everything, culinary and not. I approach everything with an open mind ready to learn something new.
LAC: Are there any chefs, who you haven’t worked with, who you look toward for culinary inspiration?
PFL: Every chef that I’ve never worked for.
LAC: Do you have any favorite cook books?
PFL: “Letters to a young chef” by Daniel Boulud, really changed my life.
LAC: If you’ve worked outside LA, how have the culinary and dining scenes been different or similar to LA’s?
PFL: Chicago was all about seasonality, I grew up in LA were we have two seasons, great tomatoes, and blow your mind tomatoes, so to move to Chicago in the winter and see what was available at the farmers market was pretty wild.
LAC: What do you most enjoy being a chef in the LA region?
PFL: It’s my hometown, and I like the camaraderie of what young chefs are doing these days.
LAC: How do you see LA’s culinary and dining scene evolving?
PFL: I see it evolving exponentially and becoming the biggest dining city in the country in the next 5 years.
LAC: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
PFL: My favorite things to work with are always my favorite things to eat, so pretty much anything from the ocean especially uni and salmon roe.