Veteran TV Producer-Turned-Restaurateur Stephen Gelber Takes THR's Taste Test

Gelber, the managing partner behind the packed, critically acclaimed new mid-city Spanish sensation smoke.oil.salt., dishes on his favorite go-to takeout and current food fixation.

Longtime TV producer and dedicated oenophile Stephen Gelber — whose Hollywood career has, by his own account, “slowed down” (he has set up nearly 30 network pilot scripts, none of which, alas, made it to air) — dreamed of opening “a publican concept” after an inspirational trip to Barcelona three years ago. Specifically, what clinched it was a visit to Tickets, the well-regarded Catalan restaurant helmed by legendary chef Ferran Adria’s nearly as acclaimed brother Albert: “I thought, ‘Why isn’t there anything like this in Los Angeles?' And I sat on it and incubated it for a year and a half.”

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Eventually he brought in Umami Burger creator Adam Fleischman as a partner (the two knew each other through L.A. wine circles). Fleischman, in turn, tapped Spanish chef Perfecto Rocher — who made his name locally by taking over Little Tokyo’s pioneering gastropub Lazy Ox Canteen after Josef Centeno left to set up Baco Mercat — to conjure the small-plates Catalonian menu at smoke.oil.salt. It opened in April at the former address of Angeli Caffe and picked up a stellar review in Los Angeles magazine’s current issue. “It was important to me to have a chef who trained in the region,” says Gelber, who also assembled the wine list, which is predominantly Spanish. (He acts as sommelier on some nights.)

“I’ve had tears in my eyes twice so far,” says Gelber, whose wife is Danielle Gelber, an executive producer on Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. “First, the day we passed our health inspection. And then the second Saturday we were open: The rock was playing and people were eating and drinking and it felt like Barcelona at 10:30 at night. That was my vision.”

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Current Fixation
“Soft-shell crab. I love soft-shell season.”

Known for Cooking
“I’m probably better known for not making dishes, but during Passover I do whip up a great matzo pizza.”

Destination Dinner
“L’Arpege, but I also would like to have lunch at Le Comptoir first and spend the day walking around Paris in between.”

Go-To Take-Out
“In N Out. Mustard grilled double-double with yellow chili peppers.”

Adventurous Bite
“Once when my son and I were tuna fishing in Cabo, our captain stuck his hand inside a yellowfin we had just reeled in and pulled out a handful of very fresh sashimi.”

Simply Won’t Eat
“I try not to be an offal guy.”

Favorite Snack
“Blueberries. And pistachio nuts.”

Dietary Regimen
“I like to start each day with a whole grapefruit and end with two glasses of wine and then some dark chocolate. What I eat in between depends on the time, place and my mood.”

Pet Peeve
“Overcooked food, over-precious presentation, undertrained staff, my back to the door.”

Big Wish
“I wish we had a better publican scene and better bistros — especially French.”

Embarrassing Experience
“I once heaved behind a somewhat secret house of beef on the Westside during a dinner with a wine-tasting group. Too much decadence.”

Guilty Pleasure
“A real Philadelphia cheesesteak with wiz.”

Last Meal
“I never had the chance to eat at El Bulli, but if I could re-create the opportunity, this would be a dream realized.”