Chef Ted Hopson, of the newly opened The Bellwether in Studio City, began his culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, but his foray into kitchens began much earlier than that. Growing up in an Italian family, Hopson recalls how food was apart of his upbringing and as such, has always been ingrained into his everyday life.
Spending six years working at Michelin-starred The Water Grill in Downtown Los Angeles, Hopson went on to become Executive Chef of one of LA's top gastropub Father's Office, overseeing the culinary program established by Sang Yoon at the restaurant's two locations. After a long career working to make other's restaurants great, last year Hopson decided to open his own restaurant and alongside Ann-Marie Verdi, also from Father's Office, who signed on as co-owner and beverage director.
The duo's new concept, The Bellwether, was opened in Studio City with the goal of showcasing the abundance of California produce as well as highlight the local farmers and purveyors who provide the restaurant with their fresh ingredients. Chef Hopson's market-inspired menu has already won over local residents as well as made headlines, including being dubbed one of Los Angeles Magazine's Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2015.
Below, we ask the chef six quick questions.
The Quick Six
Foodable: What’s the first meal (that you can recall) that changed your life?
Ted Hopson: It's hard to identify a "first meal" because I grew up in an Italian household, literally surrounded by food. I remember eating tomatoes from the garden on fresh bread with dry oregano and intense olive oil, which is the inspiration for my dish on the menu "pane e pomodoro." We would make chicken stock daily, and have it for basic pasta soups every day. We would eat the "weeds" (dandelions and chicories) from the garden on bread with salt. We would spend the summers canning tomatoes, my grandmother had 75 tomato plants in her backyard. The combination of all of this is what changed my life. My childhood was literally immersed in food culture, great food wasn't a rare occurrence, it was an everyday thing.
Foodable: Who is one person that you would love to cook for (that you haven’t already)?
TH: I would love to cook for Thomas Keller. Mostly because when I was a line cook, he was just becoming well known as a chef and he was an inspiration for me in my younger years. His approach to simple, elegant food has stuck with me through my development as a chef.
Foodable: Who is your culinary mentor?
TH: My mentor would be David Lefevre. I worked with Chef David for six years, and they were a very important six years of my life. David showed me how to be a better cook, a better chef, and a better man. During this time, I learned how to manage a kitchen, how to refine food, and how to be an effective leader. As my career has continued, I still ask Chef David questions weekly, and he still is able to be a mentor to me. I hope that my first restaurant makes him proud, he is like my culinary father.
Foodable: Where is your favorite restaurant to eat at when you aren’t working?
TH: My favorite restaurant to eat at changes all the time! When I'm not working, my wife and daughter and I love to go to Union for Italian food, Settebello for pizza, MB Post for brunch, and the list goes on and on. I'm also a HUGE fan of Jersey Mike's, I have a thing for sandwiches.
Foodable: One ingredient you could not live without?
TH: One ingredient I could not live without is vinegar. I use it more than most people I know. I found that the balance of acid, salt, and flavor is so often not found in food. I strive to show my culinary team how to create that balance. You can use less salt, but give flavors a sharpness by using more acid. It's one of the reasons people think our dishes at The Bellwether are so "clean" on the palate.
Foodable: What's the most important lesson you learned (good or bad) in your first year of owning a restaurant?
TH: One of the most important things I learned is the power of underestimating pretty much everything. Ann-Marie and I set these goals for the restaurant, and in most all cases we were way off. This includes timelines of opening, budgets, and also how busy we would be! We always hoped people would love our restaurant, but never imagined how much people would love it! We literally had people come daily for the first few days because they loved it so much! I would say for the next time, if I think I need five cambro's I'll order 10, because again, we underestimated everything!