Q&A With Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, The Men Behind Animal, Part II
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo grew up in Florida, met in culinary school, then went on to start a successful catering business. They had a cookbook, a Food Network show called 2 Dudes Catering, and even battled Cat Cora on an episode of Iron Chef America. But then they opened Animal Restaurant on Fairfax and the city of Los Angeles quickly took notice. The restaurant was almost immediately met with heaps of praise and throngs of passionate fans. In 2009, Food & Wine Magazine honored them as some of the country's Best New Chefs.
Squid Ink sat down to interview Jon and Vinny, but since Vinny was in the back doing some work in the kitchen, we figured we'd just interview them each separately, asking them both the same questions. Unless specified in the interview, all of these answers were given without the other chef present. Sort of like the Newlywed Game, except without any questions about "making whoopie."
Below is Part II of their interview. Click here to read Part I.
Squid Ink: Favorite restaurants in the city right now?
Jon Shook: I think this city right now is the culinary mecca in the U.S. Tons of chefs are coming here to open, or are already here and have opened. Young chefs are coming up, butcher shops, everything under the sun. I'm excited to see where this city's going to be in another couple of years. Downtown is happening. So I would just say the city as a whole.
Vinny Dotolo: [A long pause] I gotta tell you man, I love Pizzeria Mozza. I f***ing love it, love it, love it. They come in here a lot, we go in there a lot. Good place, good energy, the food tastes good. It's kind of like here. Some things are always here, some things are different. I kind of like that. And I have to say...I wish I had the La Super-Rica Taqueria down here. It's like my perfect lunch. As much as we have a lot of Mexican food down here, authenticity is hard to find. But I have to say Mozza is my go-to restaurant. If someone asked me for one place to eat dinner before they left town, that'd be it.
SI: What percentage of the food that you put out comes from farmers market ingredients and what percentage comes from vendors?
[Vinny happens to walk in while this question is asked, so they answer it together.]
VD: For produce it's 98 percent. The only things we buy from purveyors are some herbs, limes. I mean, you can't buy milk and meat there. You can buy milk, but food costs would be through the roof.
JS: We love farmers markets. It's not cheap. But the quality is amazing.
SI: Your menu changes a lot based on the seasons. What's the process like for you when you create a new dish?
JS: Our problems here with new dishes is that people get really upset when certain dishes come off. So I always joke that the strong survive. The other day we didn't have poutine because we ran out of Bordelaise and people were like "where's the poutine?" So sometimes it just comes down to what we're able to do. Gets back to the dream kitchen. We may have a great idea, but execution during service would be impossible. We don't have a convi oven, we don't have circulators.
[Vinny happens to walk in again and chimes in.]
VD: But if somebody reads this and wants to send us a convi oven or ice cream maker, we won't send it back.
[Now back to Vinny's interview.]
VD: We hardly ever plan in advance. Sometimes I'll work on something, give it a shot. But I'm not planning summer dishes now. Planning never seems to work out well, because then you anticipate something being there and it's not there. Maybe when I get older I'll plan more, but I find that now I experiment more beforehand. Now I'll think of an idea, try it out, then think about it, then put it on. Rather than just going for it. Unless I feel like it's a well rounded thought. I just find that planning is hard. You could show up to the farmer's market and there's nothing there. But I like having a lot of ingredients. I'll get new stuff, then get it all in front of me and then start planning. Like, for that day, or for that night.
SI: All right. If you could have any chef in the world cook you a multi-course dinner, who would it be?
JS: Jeremy Fox. He's a friend, but I think that with him being gone from Ubuntu, I think Vinny and I are a little bummed that we never got to have his food there. So I miss that we never got to have his food in a restaurant setting. We're hoping that in a couple months we can get him to come down here and do some dinners. We call him the wizard around here. Someone recently asked him what his favorite cooking technique was and he looked them in the eye and said "cooking with stones". So he'd be my guy right now, I guess. I don't know.
VD: Anywhere in the world? Wow...f**k. That's a tough question. There's so many good people. I could have, like, seven people do one course each. I almost want to say somebody who's food I haven't had. But I've been to Alinea and I've had Grant's food before, and that's some of the best cooking I've had in a long time. So I'd have to say him. I'd have to say Grant Achatz or Jeremy Fox from Ubuntu. Those are my two.