4 Iconic Restaurant Dishes First Created in L.A.

Chaya Tuna Tartare - H 2013
Daniel Hennessy

Chaya Tuna Tartare - H 2013

The chefs who invented now-famous and copycatted recipes reveal how they happened.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


Chaya Brasserie

1. One night in 1984, Chaya Brasserie chef Shigefumi Tachibe had a problem: "Five customers came in wanting beef tartare, but one said, 'I don't eat beef.' " So Tachibe tried tuna. "Tuna is kind of dry, so I added avocado," he says. As Chaya celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2013, customers still clamor for it. Tachibe likes the spicier variation at his Venice restaurant but disdains copycats he has tried elsewhere. "You need egg yolk, green peppercorns, capers, tarragon, chives, lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper," he says. "They don't get it right." Tachibe did -- and the knife he used wound up at the Smithsonian in Washington, along with his chef's coat.

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Kogi Food Truck

2. L.A.'s dish of the millennium, the Korean short-rib taco -- which evolved from street-food phenomenon to T.G.I. Friday's staple in only a few years -- was dreamed up by chef Roy Choi after a drunken reverie with friend (and soon-to-be Kogi food-truck business partner) Mark Manguera in September 2008. "We were like: 'Korean BBQ! In a taco! It'll be delicious,' " says Choi. He remembers roaming the aisles of Koreatown's Gaju market, "grabbing things and putting them in the cart." Choi added kimchi and a cabbage slaw with soy-sesame chili. "I put it together, and we all took a bite. It was like, whoa."



3. In 1982, Wolfgang Puck hired Northern California pizza pioneer Ed LaDou (who later developed California Pizza Kitchen's first menu) to create pies at his nascent Spago. "One day we ran out of brioche," recalls Puck of the genesis of his now famous smoked salmon pizza, "so we cooked pizza bread with red onions, olive oil, creme fraiche on top and pepper and lemon juice -- it was a perfect combination." It has spread as far as Paul Bocuse's L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges near Lyon. "He and I are talking, and I see Spago's smoked salmon pizza -- he gave us total credit," says Puck. "Exporting to Poland and China is less surprising than Lyon, the center of traditional French cooking."

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La Scala

4. The now-ubiquitous chopped salad began as La Scala's Gourmet Salad, a mix of lettuce, cheese, salami and garbanzo beans that has been enjoyed by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Reynolds and Warren Beatty. "But customers started complaining," says Gigi Leon, daughter of founder Jean Leon, who opened the Beverly Hills institution in 1956, "because the cheese and the salami were julienned in long pieces and hard to eat when you're trying to be dainty. So my dad and the chef chopped it." Roast beef was a popular chopped-salad add-on during the '70s; now, "some people order our spaghetti bolognese with no spaghetti and put it on the salad. Kim Kardashian is in here all the time. Gwyneth Paltrow is a big fan of chopped salad; she asked me for the recipe to put on her website Goop. It's strange to think it is everywhere, and it started with us."