The Interview: Chef Charlie Parker

The chef from Los Angeles’ Freddy Smalls gives us an insider’s view

Charlie Parker is the man in the chef’s coat at Freddy Smalls Bar and Kitchen, a Los Angeles gastropub where he’s taking bar food to a whole new level. Creative comfort food like Buffalo-style deviled eggs and Dungeness crab on buttery toast (to start), lamb sugo with potato dumplings and flash-grilled steak tartare with smoked egg yolk (as entrées) and corned beef with bone marrow, Yorkshire pudding, and caramelized sauerkraut (to pig out on) have been pulling in the crowds.

Parker was named a Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011, and the Los Angeles Times has even taken note, giving the restaurant a stellar review. Before he took the helm at Freddy Smalls in 2011, Parker spent 10 years working at some of the coast’s top restaurants, including Manresa and Ubuntu.

Parker took some time to answer some questions about his influences, successes, failures, and ideal dining experiences.

The Daily Meal: What was your first restaurant industry job?
Charlie Parker: My first restaurant industry job was as a dishwasher, when I was 17 years old, working for an Italian restaurant called A Tavola in San Carlos, Calif.

TDM: When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
CP: First thing I notice when walking into a restaurant is being properly greeted and welcomed.

TDM: Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
CP: There’s nothing that I hate cooking — I always enjoy cooking.

TDM: If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
CP: I would have Michel Bras, arguably France's most respected chef, cook me a tasting menu with his emphasis on vegetables.

TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
CP: My biggest success was being named a Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. Not too long after, I moved to Los Angeles to be the executive chef at Freddy Smalls. I grew up in San Francisco and it’s a big influence on who I am as a chef, but it has also been an exciting adventure getting familiar with the Los Angeles culinary scene, farmers' markets, and seasons.

TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
CP: My biggest failure as a chef would be not spending more time in Europe, training at different restaurants.

TDM: What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
CP: The meal that was the most transcendental dining experience I ever had was during a family trip to Italy, during my youth. We ate at a small restaurant in Rome; I realized how good food and wine can bring people together. The food was simple, seasonal, but delicious and beautifully executed. One of the dishes was a risotto that was finished tableside in a hollowed out wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

TDM: Are there any foods you will never eat?
CP: I do have foods that I don’t care for… for example, durian. But I do believe that every food deserves to be tried at least once.

TDM: Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
CP: I feel privileged to be doing work that I’m passionate about, and to be working with great people. It has opened up many doors for me. I’ve traveled, experienced different cultures, tasted different foods, drank different wines, and have met people from all walks of life and have built lasting relationships.

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