The L.A. dining scene recently experienced a huge loss when Evan Funke—considered by many to be the most gifted pasta-maker in the city—resigned as head chef from Bucato two weeks ago.
Funke cut his teeth at Spago and Rustic Canyon before receiving critical acclaim at his two-year-old Culver City restaurant, which focused on hand-rolled pasta and old world-technique—all of which he shared on his popular Instagram feed. The chef also garnered attention for his photo policy, which banned diners from snapping food porn at the dinner table.
While some diners found the ban overbearing, few would deny that Funke has always been thoughtful in his approach when it comes to food and the culture surrounding it.
As he steps away from the kitchen to prepare for a trip to Italy, we caught up with Funke to ask him about how the restaurant scene in L.A. has evolved into an internationally respected hub, the differences between East Coast and West Coast attitudes, hypocrisies that plague the industry, and why today’s chefs have it much easier.
On leaving Bucato and coming full circle.
I’m bummed. These things happen though. My story is not unique in the restaurant business. I had irreconcilable differences with the restaurant, that’s all I can say at the moment. But I’m not going away anytime soon. Wherever I land next will be an extension of what I did at Bucato. My style will not change. My dedication and devotion to handmade pasta will never die.
I’ll be taking a trip to Italy soon, the place where I was reborn as a pasta maker. I’ll head south to see Puglia and Calabria—that’s where I think the true exercise of la cucina povera is. It means “the poor kitchen.” It’s really where pasta was conceived.
You’ll find a chef who is 23 years old, staged at Noma, been to Sweden to eat Magnus’ food, worked a couple years with Jose Andres, and picked up a few techniques under his belt; he knows how to plate beautiful food, but doesn’t have the depth to continue.
I’m headed back to where it all began, and that’s what I mean by it will be an extension. I want to get at the heart of the craft, where these practices are still sacrament. I can see how people might think it’s bailing, that ‘oh, he just wants to go fuck around in Italy.’ But my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with my trip. I was planning on going as chef and owner of Bucato, not as a free agent.
On fickle diners.
The interesting thing about L.A. diners is there’s a bit of gastro ADD. It’s like swiping through Facebook or Instagram. It’s in front of you for a split second and then completely forgotten. Everyone is waiting for what’s new, what’s hot or controversial, what celebrity chef is cooking at this place. I love this city to death, but I do feel that the dining public is fickle and doesn’t necessarily invest in restaurants like San Fracisco, New York, or Chicago does. There’s a cult following to certain restaurants in those other cities, whereas in L.A. there is a certain contingent of loyalty, but there’s more of a fascination with new, splashy, celeb-driven stuff. It’s a part of the beast here. It’s not about why Maude is a great restaurant. It’s, ‘hey, look at me, I’m eating here.’ That was part of the reason I didn’t want to have cell phones at the restaurant.
Ludo Lefebvre is spearheading a movement that’s just starting to crest. Photo by Liz Barclay
On why L.A.’s food scene is unrivaled.
Right now is the most exciting time in Los Angeles dining history because the pendulum is swinging from SF to Los Angeles, from the East Coast to Los Angeles. There are plenty of amazing chefs—Voltaggio, Vinny and Jon, Ludo—that are really swinging for the fences. This upper echelon is spearheading a movement that is just now starting to crest. You have the young turks that are true artisans, from Clark Street Bread to Jessica Koslow at Sqirl; small-batch, really focussed beautiful smart food. They will be giants in the coming years. We’re also cooking with the best ingredients. Santa Monica is the premier market in the country. It crushes the NYC Green Market because of the sheer bounty and diversity available. It’s a chef’s wet dream.
This is going to be the next dining mecca of the next decade. Mark my words. Michael White and April Bloomfield will be out here.
Chad from Tartine is is coming down here for a reason. Within the next two to three years, Michael White and April Bloomfield will be out here. Mario Batali was the first guy to make a success at Mozza from the East Coast. There haven’t been that many able to make a go of cooking in L.A. because the mentality of how restaurants are run here is a completely different thing. This is going to be the dining mecca of the next decade. Mark my words. It will literally change dining in the U.S., and I can only hope to be a part of that.
On why fine dining doesn’t fly here.
A lot of the East Coast chefs are coming out here because it’s more relaxed. It goes hand-and-hand with formality of the NY dining scene. There is a space there for Jean-Georges, Marea, and Le Bernardin. All of them can do very well because there is a respect and desire to go to dinner in a jacket. It’s a very old city, and you’ll always have that for the upper-crust dining scene. And it’s very beautiful and it should exist. NY is one of the best places to eat on the planet, but in L.A., these chefs have an outlet where they can express themselves 100 percent without having to bend to that mentality.
What’s flooded the market the past 12 years has been atrocious—under-qualified, under-motivated, and under-educated cooks. I’ve had to un-fuck all of them and teach them from scratch. Most of them are in debt for their education and have zero to show for it.
In L.A., fine dining is an endangered species. It speaks to the history of the city—it’s a pueblo, a small town. The original name is El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles. That mentality is still alive and very well. That’s why people are more relaxed.
Artisans like Jessica Koslow are breathing new life into L.A. Photo courtesy Jessica Koslow
On why being a a chef today is much easier.
I think it’s a helluva lot easier today. You have this restaurant opening frenzy with young guys who might not necessarily have the depth to pull it off but who get money and backing to open a place. They don’t have leadership qualities; they don’t have the experience necessary to run a restaurant that has staying power. Yet there are people lining up to open restaurants because it’s a new thing. It’s a game that involves huge losses, but they don’t care because it’s “hot” to do. You’ll find a chef who is 23-years-old, staged at Noma, been to Sweden to eat Magnus’ food, worked a couple years with Jose Andres; he’s picked up a few techniques under his belt, knows how to plate beautiful food, but doesn’t have the depth to continue. The person isn’t willing to put in 10 to 15 years, to be able to learn to motivate people, drive a team, deal with customers, vendors, and the health department. That shit takes time. People don’t understand that this is a purely experience-driven industry.
On not having any cooks in Los Angeles.
What’s happening is that the cost of living out here is going up, and the quality of life is decreasing.
I was able to survive on nine bucks an hour for four years because my parents put me up for a bit. You need minimum of 40K a year just to live. What line cook do you know who makes that? Not many—mostly people who work at country clubs and hotels. This goes back to a bigger conversation about the hourly wage hike. Will it create a better work life balance for restaurant professionals? Absolutely. But what will that do for small operations? It will kill them. We’re gonna be credit over creativity. I think it has the potential to change a lot of what’s happening here.
NY is one of the best places to eat on the planet, but in L.A., these chefs have an outlet where they can express themselves 100 percent without having to bend to that mentality.
It’s a multi-faceted issue. I’ve been outspoken about [the cooking school] Le Cordon Bleu and how they have done a horrific butchery of teaching people how to be cooks. I know that because I taught there for 12 weeks. What I saw there frightened me. They’re not even being taught etiquette or how to sharpen knives. What’s flooded the market the past 12 years has been atrocious—under-qualified, under-motivated, and under-educated cooks. I’ve had to un-f*ck all of them and teach them from scratch. Most of them are in debt for their education and have zero to show for it. They’re brought along into the meat grinder, and when they get out there they get chewed up, and 75 percent say fuck this, I wanna be on TV.