We’re back from our holiday break with a new look for L.A. Times Food and, as you can see, our Tasting Notes newsletter; plus a pizza family reunion story; and a sampler of “Taste of L.A.,” a special premium tabloid section going out Sunday to subscribers; and modernist tacos. I’m Laurie Ochoa, general manager of L.A. Times Food, with this week’s good reads.
A pizza family makes peace
It’s no secret that the restaurant business, with its long hours, physical demands, high stress and need for intense creative focus on the part of its chefs, takes a toll on family life. The price of success was especially high for Italy’s Franco Pepe, who as I write in “From Slow Food to High Tech: Saving Pizza’s Future” for the premium Food supplement coming Sunday, was named the world’s best pizza chef in September for the second consecutive year in the international Best Chef Awards, and whose pizzeria was No. 1 for three years running (2017-2019) in the 50 Top Pizza guide.
Viewers of the now-streaming Netflix series “Chef’s Table: Pizza” know how Pepe left his career as a teacher to keep the family pizza business going with his two brothers after their father died, but broke away when his brothers resisted his ideas for advancing the art of pizza. He opened his own place, Pepe in Grani, a short walk away from his family’s Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe, in Caiazzo, about 45 minutes via autostrada north of Naples. The brothers saw Pepe’s action as a betrayal and they didn’t speak to each other for nearly nine years. Restaurant life also strained his marriage and relationship with his children. One of the most moving parts of the episode is when Pepe reunites with his two brothers around the table for the “Chef’s Table” cameras.
Peace negotiations between the brothers began with the death of their mother. Just before she died, Pepe promised his mother that he would try to repair the rift, and at her funeral he reached out to his brothers.
But there was still some distance between the brothers when the “Chef’s Table” camera crew arrived in Caiazzo.
“Franco walked into the [family] restaurant for the first time in nine years when we were filming,” said “Chef’s Table” producer and director Brian McGinn. “It was really intense to be put right in the middle of the family dynamic like that. But we wanted to reflect all the ups and downs of the story. It really required everyone to be open and honest and ready to ready to have that conversation.”
“I’d been talking about this episode with Brian for three years,” Pepe told me though an interpreter at McGinn’s home when he was in Los Angeles this past fall for a lunch featuring his pizza at Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza. “For me, the ‘Chef’s Table’ episode represents a very important step of my career. I feel a responsibility to look at what I’m doing with different eyes.
“I’ve always kept a hidden personal side,” he continued. “Many times I smiled at people but was crying behind the door. I came to understand that my job was my medicine. But I carried guilt. I felt an obligation to my brothers, to my kids, to my mother who is not here anymore, and for the family I created at the pizzeria.”
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“I think the time was just right,” McGinn said. The funeral for the Pepe brothers’ mother happened not long before the “Chef’s Table” camera crew arrived.
“My brothers didn’t know about ‘Chef’s Table’ ahead of time, but I couldn’t allow for them not to be part of the episode.” One of the brothers was more resistant to being filmed, but in the end, both participated.
“When Brian brought [the camera crew] I closed the door and left so they would feel free to say whatever they wanted,” Pepe said. “And today, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see us having a different future together.”
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Our bright new look
Logotype by Abby Haddican Studio
It’s a new era in the food world and we have a new look, new features, new staff members and big plans to bring you stories and events that meet this moment. Every L.A. Times Food editor encounters different challenges in a food and restaurant environment that is always shifting. This was true for former Food editors Betsy Balsey; Ruth Reichl, who passed the reins to me when she left to become the New York Times restaurant critic; Russ Parsons, who followed me when I left to join Ruth at Gourmet magazine; Amy Scattergood; Peter Meehan; and Alice Short. And it’s true now for our current Food editor, Daniel Hernandez, with whom I’m thrilled to work in my newish role as general manager of Food. “Emerging from the pandemic with high ambitions, perseverance and unbounded creativity,” Daniel and I wrote in our joint letter introducing our new look and new features, “L.A. food culture, with its innovators and stalwarts, its traditions and native dishes, is undeniably the country’s most dynamic and diverse.” In my own letter reintroducing myself, I said that my “urge to return in an official role was sparked by the resilience, generosity and inventiveness I’ve seen from the people who feed Los Angeles … a changed restaurant landscape with established stars demonstrating fresh ways to express their ideas and new faces bringing ambition and creative defiance.”
Our creative director, Amy King, sparked the change by assembling and marshaling a design team, including Abby Haddican, who designed our new Food logo, and a big assist from our photo department and copy desk, not to mention our star deputy editor, Betty Hallock. Most important, our reporters, columnists and contributors came through with a collection of stories that reflect the state of food in Los Angeles at this moment and glimpse of what’s ahead for L.A. Times Food. Among the stories you should read this week:
— Jenn Harris’ food crawl with TV’s Jeannie Mai Jenkins, with stops at three Vietnamese restaurants in the San Fernando Valley
— Lucas Kwan Peterson’s ranking of the good, the not-so-bad and the ugly among 45 (!) slushy, icy blended coffee drinks he drank from Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Dutch Bros., Peet’s and Panera
— Stephanie Breijo’s inside look at the pastry chef who has pioneered environmentally friendly chocolate desserts at L.A.’s Michelin-starred Providence
— Ben Mims’ tips for cooking for one, with insights into his life as our chief recipe developer
— Critic Bill Addison’s 12 most loved restaurant dishes of 2022
— Betty Hallock’s visit with the food artists at Ananas Ananas studio
— Erica Zora Wrightson’s report on how Padma Lakshmi’s stepdad became the curry leaf king of California
— Jordan Michelman’s story on Hollywood’s natural wine ‘it’ bar
— Dua Anjum’s guide to 22 great halal food spots in Southern California
— Jenn Harris’ behind-the-scenes piece on the making of Los Angeles school lunches
— Eddie Lin on ‘MasterChef’ winner Dara Yu’s pop-up Congee & Crullers in Santa Monica
— Stephanie Breijo’s interview with the forces behind Little Tokyo’s sleek new cocktail den Let’s Go! Disco & Cocktail Club, plus her report on new Smorgasburg vendors for 2023 and more restaurant opening news.
California’s new wave of Latino winemakers
“California is home to an estimated 45 Latino-owned wineries … a fraction of the state’s 4,500 producers, but their numbers are growing,” reports Cindy Carcamo in her story about what it means to be a Latino winemaker or owner in a white-dominated industry. She talks with several California winemakers and experts, including Ulloa Cellars’ Nancy Ulloa, a 36-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, who now runs her own winery in Paso Robles.
“I want [wine] to be an inclusive experience,” Ulloa told Carcamo. “I want to be able to include people like my parents who are often overlooked or neglected, people who don’t think they are capable of understanding wine.”
L.A.’s next taco sensation
Bill Addison has recovered (barely) from his eating and sorting marathon for our most recent 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles guide and is back on the weekly review beat. For his latest, he stopped by the Silver Lake mariscos truck Simón, run by Francisco Aguilar. “There will never be such a thing as oversaturation in L.A.’s taco culture,” Addison writes in his review, “but wild cards are always welcome, and Aguilar rates a categorical free-thinker. … He leans modernist in his sculptural forms and outside-the-box shadings of taste and texture.” Sometimes that means mottled blue-and-yellow-corn tortillas, other times fish al pastor atop a guacamole-smeared tortilla with fried onions and soy-sauce caramelized onions paired with a quesotaco take on a shrimp gobernador. If you go, prepare for a long wait with a tasty reward.