Before moving to Los Angeles, James Beard award nominated Chef Josef Centeno began his culinary career working in a number New York restaurants, including such names as Daniel, La Cote Basque and Les Celebrites. Having trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Centeno quickly worked up the ranks, working as executive chef at both Meson G and Opus in Los Angeles as well as Chef de Cuisine at Manresa in Northern California.
Yet the Chef was not content to rest on his laurels and in 2011, Centeno introduced his own restaurant concept Baco Mercat, centered around a dish of the same name Centeno invented as a late night snack for his employees. The baco, or essentially a flatbread sandwich made with leftover meat from the evening's dinner service, quickly became a hit with Angeleno diners and the restaurant was nominated for a number of both local and national awards, including ranking #9 on Bon Appetit's Best Restaurant in America and a near constant positioning on Foodable's own Top 25 List.
Following the success of Baco Mercat, Centeno opened Bar Ama the following year, a Tex-Mex inspired concept that features a number of innovative small plates that incorporate the flavors of Centeno's own childhood. Following Bar Ama were both Centeno's tiny Italian-Japanese fusion, tasting menu driven Orsa and Winston as well as Ledlow, a reinvention of a neighborhood favorite that focuses on California comfort food.
How does the Chef find the time to manage four such unique concepts? Location is a big part of it. Each of Centeno's restaurants are located within a block of the next, so jumping between spots during dinner service is entirely possible.
Below, we ask the Chef quick six questions.
The Quick Six
Foodable: What’s the first meal (that you can recall) that changed your life?
Josef Centeno: Les Célébrités in New York with my aunt and uncle. It was my first fine dining experience. Ironically it was also my last fine dining experience for a while because I ended up working there and working so much that I never had the time to go out.
Foodable: Who is one person that you would love to cook for (that you haven’t already)?
JC: I've been really fortunate to cook for a lot of really cool people (Alice Waters, Julia Childs, Bill Clinton). But I really wanted to cook for Lou Reed and I almost did in New York, but his reservation got canceled last minute.
Foodable: Who is your culinary mentor?
JC: I don't have a specific mentor but all my past and present food experiences and the people I have learned from kind of have an imaginary presence in my mind even if I don't talk to them anymore or talk to them enough.
Foodable: Where is your favorite restaurant to eat at when you aren’t working?
JC: Night + Market, Alimento, Rustic Canyon and Gjelina whenever able. These guys are so inspiring on so many levels.
Foodable: One ingredient you could not live without?
JC: Fresh herbs and vinegar. With those you can make anything taste delicious.
Foodable: What's the most important lesson you learned (good or bad) in your first year of owning a restaurant?
JC: Watch your spending with an eagle eye. Everything from labor, purchasing, repairs, and miscellaneous buying.