Inside the Actor’s Studio meets the Food Network is how we would describe the new web-based show called Studio Gourmet SF. The concept is that a local chef with a good story will do a cooking demo, an in-depth interview with the host Brad Lev, and then the live audience can eat the signature dish from the chef.
On Sunday, we arrived at Circolo for the live taping and the chef of the month was David Lawrence from 1300 on Fillmore.
For the cooking demo we got to see how Lawrence’s signature shrimp and grits are made. It was surprising to see a guy with a British accent cooking southern food; it turns out Lawrence is from the U.K., but his wife is from the U.S. south and when she first made grits he knew he could improve them. Grits with butter and water didn’t cut it for David and he has now perfected the grits with cream and mushroom stock. Upgrade!
Lev explained that he started the Studio Gourmet concept in Atlanta because in a time when chefs are rock stars, we really know little about them aside from their food. Well, we now know enough about David Lawrence that we can easily write his biography. We know that his father was a chef at a steakhouse in London. We know about all of the long hours he put in at the Roux brothers restaurants before ending up at the pinnacle, Le Gavroche, which is famous for serving the most expensive meal ever and getting hot with Hell’s Kitchen’s very own Gordon Ramsey as the chef. It is the place where David cooked for Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
One of our favorite stories happened after Lawrence came to the Bay Area and the Chronicle ran a big piece on black chefs in the area for Black History Month. Lawrence was asked to go to the James Beard House and make soul food. He wasn’t sure how to do that, but he wanted the trip so he agreed. He did a huckleberry foie gras dish and everyone, including himself, knew that he was on to something and this would be the direction for his career.
Lawrence has still never visited the south, so his version of the food has no blinders or tastebud blockers. He says he is delighted when guests visit from those areas and say, “This is just how grandma would make it.”
1300 is truly his dream restaurant: he actually dreams right above it. Yup, the Fillmore is his home, and it’s interesting how he found it. He was working at another address-named restaurant, 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo, and he found it difficult to find a black barber nearby. After someone did the unthinkable and wet his hair before cutting it, he was told that the Fillmore in the city was his haircutting destination.
Lawrence sees the kitchen as his stage and nothing thrills him more than sitting in the kitchen on a packed Saturday night and seeing his audience applaud with empty plates and full stomachs. He said he auditioned for Chopped and did great until the producers asked him to “really bring it,” when he laughed and reminded him that he is British.
The full video from the evening should be available shortly on Studio Gourmet as well as tickets to future events.
Lev says his goal is to interview a different chef each month. We can’t promise that other chefs will be as interesting as David, but that would be the shrimp on the grits.
Through hard pressing journalism (read: asking Lev directly) we learned that Lev is also the Special Events Director for 1300. He says that normally he will be unaffiliated with the chefs he interviews.
Original published on sfweekly.com – Original Post