Brimming with positive energy and a laid back SoCal dialect, avid surfer, and New American cuisine pioneer, Chef Austin Cobb backs up his unique brand with decades of experience and culinary grafting in a few of SoCal,
NYC, and Italy’s hottest kitchens.
As a young chef, Cobb’s impetus to broaden his own culinary boundaries came after reading ‘Letters To A Young Chef’ by Daniel Boulud, recommended to him by one of his first chef mentors. Cobb commented,’ The book said if you want to be a badass chef you need European experience.’ At 22, Austin decided that Italy would be his chosen country to obtain his European training. ’I wanted to learn from the motherland, from the source. In the states, I felt there must be some kind of disconnect between what we were calling Italian cuisine and true authentic Italian cuisine. Sure enough, when I ended up in Avellino, Italy at Michelin starred ‘Marenna,’ there was truly a big ‘disconnect.’ Italians have a ‘whole connection’ to their food, how they approach food, their value of food. All the ingredients came to the kitchen in rustic baskets that you would get from the farmer, or fishmonger, etc. The baskets would just go back and forth. Or, you would grow your own veggies, or really know the farmer you got the veggies from. Everything was local. Nothing was brought in or imported, not even from the North or South region of Italy. This was all very eye-opening for me,’ shared Cobb.
When asked for his take on the biggest difference between the New American cuisine he creates at The Strand House and California Coastal, Executive Chef Cobb offered: ‘When I think of New American Cuisine, I think ‘freestyle.’
America is a melting pot and especially in 2020 New American reflects this globalization of everything. I have a strong background in Italian Cuisine with my years at ‘Marenna’ in Avellino, but being a native to Southern California, I’m also not afraid to tackle, authentic Mexican flavors as well as Middle Eastern dishes.
Utilizing local, seasonal ingredients, like beautiful persimmons and pomegranates in the fall, and fresh peas and ramps in the spring, and marrying them with cuisine inspiration from around the world, this is what I love most.’
In speaking to the subtle nuances of Southern California’s changing seasons, ‘Cobb offered: “Since coming back from Italy I listen to the seasons more carefully. Contrary to popular belief, the seasons do change here. You can see this if you keep an eye on your local ingredients. Some of my spring favorites are fresh peas, spring garlic, spring onions and nettles, and light fresh tender vegetables. When spring is in full effect everything just comes ready to go! You just gotta respect what’s on the plate. This is my strongest emphasis.”
“Representing a melting pot of techniques and flavors and dishes is unique to our time right now. We have an especially unique platform for this here at The Strand House where we’re not pigeonholed to be specifically an Italian restaurant or French restaurant or what have you.”
Being ‘pigeon-holed,’ in general is something Cobb organically defies in terms of his other talents and interests as well. Having fallen in love and mastered pottery back in high school, Austin has maintained his ‘hands on the (potter’s) wheel’ and is currently at work on creating his own signature pottery dishes for The Strand House (see featured image on pg. 4). When I asked him to speak to this life long passion and craft he shared, “Pottery is very hands-on and kind of mathematical as far as how it works. There’s a real science to it. Once, you get the flow and the rhythm, you can put your own spin on it.”
“Making functional pottery and being a chef is kind of perfect combination because I can make my own dishes and it is also just a great way to balance my life and relieve all the stress from the work in the kitchen and it’s very relaxing.”
Having recently ‘downgraded’ his hectic schedule to spend more energy on his pottery, Cobb reflected on finding his current ‘sweet spot,’ at ‘The Strand House,’ his ongoing adoration of the dynamic layers of cool that is LA and the importance of knowing what one’s needs are to live your best life.
I couldn’t let the interview go by without getting Austin’s perspective on his days as a personal chef for Will and Jada Picket Smith. He offered: ‘Will Smith is actually very much like his character from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He’s very funny and fun-loving and the kids were very respectful and sweet. Jayda was also very nice. But this was definitely a challenging position for me because being a personal chef is a very individual thing. I’m used to a lot of teamwork in the kitchen, having that energy and camaraderie and tasting food together. And I realized how much I missed this.”
Modesty and positivity are contagious. Chef Austin, (whom you would never know by his attitude beat Bobby Flay in a chefs challenge on the Food Network, and created one of the most revered James Beard dinners in recent history,) leaves you feeling uplifted and more grateful for your own environment: more attune to future goals I’d like to conquer. Like seasonal local ingredients and global inspirations that inspire and ignite creativity, the essential qualities and passion brought to the proverbial table by individuals like Austin Cobb transcend our every day, and spurn on us to something far more bright and vital.