Merrill Shindler / April 2012
Santa Monica, California—Chef recruiter Brad Metzger has one of the best home kitchens in Santa Monica—a city where having a home kitchen worthy of a grand hotel is standard operating procedure. But even in food-obsessed Westside Los Angeles terms, Metzger’s kitchen stands out from the crowd with its 48-inch BlueStar range, grill, and salamander, his undercounter refrigeration; his CaesarStone counters and Italian-made tiles; and his two prep and sink areas. All very nice—but not that terribly different (except perhaps for the salamander) from the kitchen found in the average mansion of your everyday studio head.
But then, there are two Las Vegas casino-style high-resolution cameras built into the ceiling of Metzger’s kitchen, which broadcast their images to giant flat screen TVs in Metzger’s kitchen/dining room (where there’s a 35-inch screen) and in his living room (where the screen is an impressive 63 inches)—and to the nearby office of his company, Brad Metzger Restaurant Solutions, as well. And you have a kitchen that’s not quite like any other. A meal at Metzger’s is a bit like falling through the rabbit hole into a Food Network show —The Real Chef Recruiters of Santa Monica, perhaps…or Iron Chef at Home.
It’s in Metzger’s home test kitchen that chefs can try out for restaurateurs, in a controlled environment, far from the organized chaos of a restaurant kitchen. The adjacent dining room and counter seats 15 diners, some of whom can watch the chef work firsthand—though most get to watch the recruit at work on the big screens—a closed-circuit broadcast with a remote control that allow clients to go to extreme close-ups of the chef at work. This isn’t just looking over his or her shoulder—this is cooking seen from the chef’s POV. You can see the steak…hear the sizzle. And, of course, taste it as well.
Metzger says, “It all began about nine years ago. I had started recruiting chefs for local restaurants. I’d present chefs to clients. And they’d want the chefs to do a tasting at their restaurants. And that created a lot of problems. In many cases, there was really no way to do a tasting at the restaurant. If they wanted to hire a new chef, what were they supposed to tell the old chef—not to show up the day of test meal? In the case of Sashi, a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan Beach, they had to rent the kitchen at a cooking school. It was ridiculous. It was like a spy story—all that sneaking around. I had been planning to remodel my home. And this seemed a win-win for all involved.”
To help design the kitchen, Brad and his wife, Lynda, recruited friend and client Evan Funke, former executive chef at the Rustic Canyon wine bar in Santa Monica. BlueStar, which recently did a demonstration of its equipment in the kitchen with Marcus Samuelsson, supplied the equipment. Santa Monica Seafood is the official supplier of all the fish used. And it’s turned into more than just a testing kitchen for recruits—local luminaries like Hot Tamale Susan Feniger use the space for cooking demos, while others drop by to test-drive recipes and equipment. About 150 chefs pass through the test kitchen every year.
A seat at Metzger’s table is one of the hottest tickets in town—and one that can’t be booked on OpenTable. Instead, his seats are filled with clients, people in the industry—and if there’s space, friends and family. And yes, Metzger and his wife cook in the kitchen as well, preparing meals for themselves and for their preteen son. Though as Metzger points out, as we look through his refrigerator, he doesn’t have to do that much cooking. “There are always leftovers,” he says, “from dishes prepared by some of the best chefs in the country. And they always taste great the next day.”