In the coming weeks, Jordan Kahn and Noah Ellis will unveil their version of a Vietnamese restaurant when they open Red Medicine in Beverly Hills. Expectations are high, with the city's food-obsessed still savoring the strange beauty of Kahn's StarChef's award-winning dessert and the electrifying resumes of these two Michael Mina vets that bear such names as Alinea, Per Se, and French Laundry. Jonathan Gold even weighed in last Thursday after an initial taste at Test Kitchen, saying he's "looking forward to going to Red Medicine."
But Kahn, the former pastry chef at XIV, doesn't care very much about the hype. In a conversation with Grub Street, the passionate toque, a native of Savannah, tells us that Red Medicine will be a casual haunt serving restaurant industry workers as its first priority, but where everyone else won't have to wait weeks for a reservation. Persuing his passions for seasonal ingredients, Vietnamese flavors, and culinary invention, Kahn is working hard to create the kind of Southeast Asian hangs he frequents all over L.A. to shock his palate and refresh his spirit between long hours spent cooking. Enjoy our interview with Jordan Kahn as he explains the inspiration and intention behind his forthcoming Red Medicine.
What is the inspiration behind Red Medicine?
We wanted to open a restaurant for industry people. We wanted a place that was open all day long, had a full bar, and served food and beverage until 2:00 A.M. Restaurant people don't usually get out of work until after 12:00 or 1:00 A.M., so we wanted to be there for them, to pick them up after a long, exhausting day. It made sense for us to open our version of that comforting hole-in-the-wall we relied on so much. This is our homage to our favorite little Vietnamese spot.
What were your own formative experiences eating Southeast Asian cuisine? Southeast Asian cuisine for us has always been extremely comforting. After working in fine dining restaurants for 14 hours tasting rich, often French-inspired food all through service, the last thing you want to eat is something rich and fatty. We would usually crave the flavors of Southeast Asia - chili, herbs, fish sauce, lime. It's a cuisine that picks you up and refreshes you after a long, exhausting day. We would often find ourselves at some little hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown at three in the morning over steaming bowls of pho. We always needed some sort of medicine to cure our ails during the last few moments of freedom, before returning to work again, hours later.
What sort of local or global research went into creating Red Medicine?
The research for Red Medicine is ongoing. I don't think a day goes by where we are not eating some form of Asian cuisine here in Los Angeles: Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Chinese, etc. That's pretty much all we eat. Occasionally, we'll go to Vegas for two days and eat around eight meals of nothing but Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai. Vegas has some of the most amazing Asian food in the country.
While researching, did you learn anything about Southeast Asian cooking that surprised you?
I learn something new everyday when eating out in Southeast Asian restaurants. As in all cuisines, everyone has their own version of how to do things. We are following that same method in the restaurant. This is not traditional Vietnamese cuisine. This is our version in which we take the flavors and elements that we find exciting and interesting from the cuisine and apply it into a format that we are familiar with.
Any predictions of a favorite or signature dish that you think will captivate people?
I don't know that any of the dishes are going to captivate people. Usually what I find interesting about a dish is often not what others find interesting. Hopefully people will come in and enjoy themselves. We want to be fun and relaxing with no pretense, no waiting two weeks to get a reservation. We are hoping for this to be a great neighborhood spot where you can just walk in at four in the afternoon and have a drink, and maybe some desserts or Vietnamese coffee. I don't really believe in signature dishes. I also don't believe in changing a dish just for the sake of it. We will replace a dish if we find that what we are replacing is as good or better. We are also hyper-seasonal. You may have a salad with celtuce and passion fruit on Monday, and it's off the menu on Thursday because celtuce might not be available anymore.
Sang Yoon is opening Lukshon this fall. What do you think it says for Southeast Asian cooking that two of the city's most anticipated new restaurants find their inspiration in that region?
It's nice to hear that you think Red Medicine is one of the most anticipated new restaurants. I hope we don't disappoint. I think it's mostly coincidental. I don't know Sang Yoon, but I'm sure his restaurant is going to be great. It's exciting anytime a person pours their heart and soul into something that is designed to make people happy. Honestly, I think the more Southeast Asian restaurants the better!
What has you the most excited to finally reveal the restaurant?
The most exciting thing for me is to work with our staff and to work in the environment we have created for ourselves. Up until now, the restaurants we've worked for, we not only had to answer to other principals, bosses, and chefs, but we also had large support staffs. At Red Medicine, it's just us. The fate of the restaurant will be the result of our hard work, dedication, and commitment. We have a great opening staff at the restaurant, and I'm most excited to work with and share our ideas with them and really see our vision come to fruition.
Red Medicine, 8400 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills
Earlier: Jordan Kahn, Noah Ellis, and Umami Don Unite for Red Medicine [Grub Street]