Chef Yousef Ghalaini

As true New Yorkers, we’re more than a little partial to the restaurants here. We’ll always be diehard pizza fanatics and nothing can rival a martini at the Polo Bar, but we’ve got to admit – there’s something to be said for the LA food scene. We stayed in LA a few weeks ago at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. After eating at FIG, we knew we had to sit down with their chef, Yousef Ghalaini. We asked about his inspiration, what sets LA food apart from the rest, and what his ideal food day looks like. Read his answer below – you’re going to want take his take recs, stat….

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

Breakfast would be the Farm Egg Shakshouka at FIG restaurant. I’d have Negi Ramen for lunch, then I would eat a whole fish and naan with escargot at Cassia.

What ingredient do you consider overrated? Which would you say makes everything better?

Bacon is overrated. Olive oil and sea salt make everything amazing.

What’s your go-to breakfast?

I always have an americano with steamed milk – my favorite lately is coffee and the mug they serve it in at Destroyer in Culver City.

What’s your personal grooming regimen?

I get a haircut every ten days. I trim my own beard and line it up using Billy Jealousy Shaving Balm. I wash my face every other day using Billy Jealousy Face Wash.

Favorite dish on the menu at FIG? 

The Bread Balloon with all the dips (warm curried lentils are my favorite) plus a side of marinated feta and olives.

An easy weeknight recipe in three steps…

Slow Poached Chicken with Ginger and Garlic and Steamed Rice:

Place rinsed chicken in a pot with chicken stock, fresh ginger, and great mushroom soy sauce (Tamari). Cook on medium low until tender (if you pull on the leg, it should come off) and rest in the juice for 20 minutes. Remove from liquid, pull apart and serve with steamed rice and pickled ginger with thinly sliced green onions. Strain the liquid and sip separately or reserve for the next day’s lunch.

Your early childhood was spent in Lebanon – what are your favorite food memories from that time?

Some favorites include: making “manoush” with my grandfather at his bakery; eating dinner with my whole family at my grandparents’ house at least three times a week, and being amazed at the variety of cultures that my grandmother incorporated into her cooking daily; going to our aunt’s farm and having fresh eggs, fresh milk, and fresh bread for breakfast; learning how to roll grapeleaves at 7! Watching my grandmother make her own tomato paste on the roof; watching her butcher a whole lamb and make snacks for us while doing it; watching my grandparents distill their own orange blossom water; eating grilled sardines and coal grilled corn all the time on the “cornishe” (the Lebanese version of a boardwalk); collecting the little glass marbles at the bottom of a bottle of Arak.

How has your time there influenced your cooking philosophy? 

The biggest influence from my time there was the amount of happiness that people got from eating together and watching people be happy despite the war that was around them. Watching people eat my food at FIG is what keeps me in this industry. As a Chef, I love harkening back to all the flavors I grew up with and reworking them using the amazing California ingredients.

We have an amazing spice collection, and I really try to use Saida (the town I grew up in, and a huge Phoenician trading port) as the inspiration to introduce playful, global influences into the menu. My grandmother’s food included Spanish, Italian, French, Persian, Egyptian, and Palestinian influences – all things that I love pulling from often.

The food trend you’re loving and why? 

I love the idea of the Japanese kitchen – Yakitori, hand cut soba and Udon, and Ramen! Sushi and fish butchering are absolutely fascinating to me (I learned so much from Chef Ken Tominaga of Pabu in San Francisco and Boston) and this is what I eat all the time outside of our kitchen. My other favorite trend is the rise of Middle Eastern food nationwide, and I love the complex flavors present in such simple preparations – I would never turn down a falafel or shawarma sandwich.

What are your favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each? 

I’m quite partial to NYC and LA (I think we have some really great food here at the moment) but I also love Boston, SF and Washington, DC.

NYC:  The Beatrice Inn, Russ and Daughters, Keste, Ippudo, Yakitori Totto, Casa Mono, Xi’an Famous

Washington, DC: Thai Xing, Rose’s Luxury, Two Amy’s, Oyamel, Rasika, Bistro Du Coin

LA: Tsujita, Sunnin (best Lebanese food), Hamasaku, Marugame Monzo, Republique, Spago, Terroni, Alimento, The Mozza Complex, Tacos Puntas Cabras (best fish tacos in town), Broken Spanish (best Mexican in town), Sotto (best Pizza), Night+Market, Cassia, The Cannibal, Din Tai Fung; Kali

SF: Saigon Sandwich, Locanda, Delfina, Tartine Bakery, Blue Bottle, Pabu, A-16, Swan’s Oyster Depot, and dim sum at Yank Sing

Go to takeout order?

Lebanese: Raw Kibbeh, Fattoush Salad, Hummus with Seasoned Beef and Pine nuts

Chinese: Wonton Soup, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, Singapore Mei Fun

Snacks you always keep on hand?

Sommer House Granola and Beef Jerky.

In the same vein as what is the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato in the restaurant industry?

Wood Burning Ovens, Wood Burning Grills, outdoor mini fire pits for s’mores, fresh pita (we’ve been doing it for a few years now) and table-side service! I love that last one so much – there’s nothing like someone scraping some bone marrow into a pasta for you, or mixing your bibimbap while it’s still sizzling!

Want more from some of our favorite chefs? Check out this interview with David Bouley or Carla Hall.