Under the Toque: TV’s Leibfried takes starring role at seafood concept

Under the Toque: TV’s Leibfried takes starring role at seafood concept

Fans of the Fox Network television series “Hell’s Kitchen” will recognize Los Angeles chef Scott Leibfried, sous chef on the show, who is known for requiring somewhat fewer bleep-outs in his dialogue than his boss, Gordon Ramsay.

Off screen, Leibfried is the corporate chef of one of the hottest new venues in Los Angeles, the small but hugely popular cafe and oyster bar opened by longtime seafood purveyor Santa Monica Seafood [3] last month.

Leibfried’s mission in designing the cafe’s menu was to highlight what is arguably some of the freshest seafood available in Los Angeles in a way that evokes the Sicilian roots of the Cigliano family that has owned the seafood company for generations.

The result is a menu that features such dishes as hamachi crudo with arugula pesto, lemon oil, radish and basil; grilled shrimp panzanella salad with organic greens, capers, avocado and tomatoes; and grilled Scottish salmon on a bed of arugula, endive, radicchio, oven-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and lemon vinaigrette. Nothing is priced over $20, and the line of hopeful diners often goes out the door.

Once the Santa Monica location is running smoothly in the hands of executive chef Eric Baran, Leibfried plans to turn his attention to the company’s second retail location in Costa Mesa, Calif. He hopes to see the company open more cafes.

Leibfried got his start at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and at Napa Valley Grille in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood. While he was there, he began working on television shows for the Food Network, including “Party Starters,” and “Challenge.” Leibfried also works with Ramsay on the program “Kitchen Nightmares,” but in that case he serves primarily behind the scenes as a kitchen consultant.

BIOGRAPHY

Jobs: sous chef to Gordon Ramsay on the Fox television show “Hell’s Kitchen” and kitchen consultant on “Kitchen Nightmares,” corporate chef of Santa Monica Seafood’s new cafe and oyster bar in Santa Monica, Calif.Birth date: March 9, 1971Birthplace: New YorkEducation: Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I., 1993Personal: married, no kidsInterests: skiing, deep-sea fishing and “mountain bikes, motorcycles and other things that go fast”

How did you end up working on Ramsay’s television shows?

I was told I had some television appeal after I did some work with the Food Network.

When they were casting the first season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” I went to meet the producers. I didn’t really think anything would come of it. At the time, I didn’t even know who Gordon Ramsay was. I had never heard of him.

The next day they called and said, “Gordon’s in town, and can you meet?” So I went in. They were all sitting around a room, just the TV people and Gordon. We just started talking, about food and style and the industry. We connected.

You connected as chefs?

Yes, Gordon is very professional. People today don’t talk about brigades or mother sauces or Old World systems that were put in place to help us be where were are now. But he does.

Do you see the show as way to educate?

It’s part of my responsibility to carry the torch and make sure younger people understand the whys and hows. The show does that.

To do the show, did you go to work in Ramsay’s restaurants?

I spent a few weeks in London and worked shifts at all the places there. I got on the tube every morning and worked the 12 to 14 hours, and I would fill notebooks with information. It was so nice to be back in an Old World atmosphere where people worked a certain way and had a certain level of professionalism.

“Hell’s Kitchen” is taping its fifth season, and “Kitchen Nightmares” is in its third. What do you do in between?

I opened the restaurant [email protected] in San Diego, and I’ve been doing some consulting. I have a consulting firm called Front Burner Concepts with Reggie Parks, who was the general manager of the Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy Hotel there.

How did you get involved with Santa Monica Seafood?

I’ve known Michael Cigliano, the owner, for 10 years. But I just thought he was a fish salesman, I didn’t realize he owned the place. About six or seven months ago, I was in the store, and we made some small talk. A few days later he calls to tell me they’re moving the store to a new location and putting in a cafe and oyster bar. He asked if I’d be interested in putting the menu together.

CHEF’S TIPS

Never season fish until right before cooking. Salt pulls the moisture out of fish and it won’t get a nice crust.

When making shrimp cocktail, add the shrimp to cold water and bring it just to a boil. It will be more tender if it is not boiled.

So what was your mission?

Simplicity. There are no heavy sauces, nothing to mask the seafood. I wanted to interpret the family’s Italian heritage, so I tapped into the Italian fare I had learned in cooking school and on vacations to Italy. My family is Italian and German, so our tradition is that it’s about the company and everyone being together around the table.

I also wanted to emphasize the fact that the store is right down the street from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, so we’re buying the best local ingredients. But we had a lot of nights arguing. We were adamant about keeping with the theme. I’m not putting a fish taco or an oyster po’ boy on the menu. If we start doing those things, we’ll lose our identity. The mantra is to turn people onto eating more seafood, so we’re not serving anything but.

Did the economy play any role in your pricing?

The economy didn’t really play much of a role, but we wanted to provide an exceptional value for a high-quality item, meaning the fresh seafood.

The cafe has only been open a short time, so how is it going so far?

It’s doing three times the volume we had anticipated. Our biggest problem so far is that we don’t have enough space and it’s too busy. We have a hard time keeping up.