Who made Chiat\Day’s “Chaya Playa” the hottest commissary in Southern California? Lisa Kurth, that’s who
BY HOLLY HODGES. PLAYA DEL REY, CALIFORNIA (CHIATDAYNIGHT) — Think feeding 600 hungry employees a day is a challenge? How about serving dinner to the president of Pepsico? Or planning a client presentation with Koji Truck entrepreneur Roy Choi? Lisa Kurth — Executive Chef and General Manager of TBWA\Chiat\Day’s café, Chaya Playa — handles such demands with panache. Her witty, elegant, and — above all — delicious menus have made Chiat\Day’s commissary the envy of hungry media professionals from Burbank to Hollywood to San Diego and — if the longing tweets from famished TBWA offices in Brazil, France, New York, and farther afield are any indication — even beyond Southern California.
Is there a typical day for an Executive Chef at TBWA?
My day begins around 5am. I create menus, research the nutritional values and figure out the costs associated with delivering breakfast and lunch for 500 people, 5 days a week. Fortunately, I have a wonderful staff of twelve. I can’t imagine how it all would get done without them.
We also do special catering for meetings and we’re sometimes involved in a pitch.
Working on the Uncle Ben’s pitch
For the Uncle Ben’s pitch with OMD, we prepared a complete rice breakfast. We created omelet stations: omelets made with rice, cheese and avocados. Plus we developed a rice/bran/raisin muffin for them. An artist created a portrait of Uncle Ben out of colored grains of rice. It was amazing.
Prepping ingredients with food truck entreprenuer, Roy Choi
Crate & Barrel was an intense pitch. The day before, I worked with Roy, prepping all the ingredients he needed. It turned out to be an awesome event. We had a mixologist, who was inspirational. Now I want to study mixology. I never knew how exciting that field was.
After-hours supper for Pepsico
When we did a dinner for Pepsi, we did up the tables with fine linens and beautiful china place settings. It was a beautiful display. It looked like the Ritz-Carlton. I researched what Indra Nooyi (Presidient of Pepsico) liked to eat and found out she’s a vegetarian, so we had some special vegetarian dishes.
It had been a long day and we were just getting ready to leave, when Rob Schwartz came running up and asked us to follow him. Indra wanted to talk to us. She grabbed my hand and thanked me. I just remember how gracious she was and how soft her hands were.
Did you always want to be a chef?
Pretty much. I grew up back east in an Italian family. My whole life was influenced by my grandmother. Her backyard was turned into a garden. Absolutely no grass. She made her own ketchup, jellies, tomato sauce and pasta. She had these clothesline-like contraptions to dry pasta on.
My mom baked everything from scratch. We owned a restaurant, Il Dolce Café, from 1994-99 in Whittier. I catered at Whittier College for the faculty master. Whittier had their own caterers, Bon Appetit, but the faculty master always used me to cater for him. (He loved my tuna sandwich, which I still make today.) Eventually, Bon Appetit wanted to hire me and here I am today.
Describe your perfect day
I’d like to wake up in a Tuscan villa with a garden. I’ll make some pasta with my granddaughter, Addie, and relax in a beautiful outside setting. I love the countryside.
What advice would you offer to someone who wants to do what you do?
You can’t please everybody. It’s devastating when even one person is disappointed. But you have to know you’re right and keep on. Have a tough skin. Be committed. Be passionate. Don’t take anything personally.
Thank you Lisa. I have a hundred other questions, but it’s almost lunchtime and I think I hear a Pesto chicken melt on Ciabatta calling me.