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Andrew Zimmern on 3 Chefs Who Rule

Lee Hefter

Lee Hefter

Lee Hefter is one of LA's hottest chefs, according to Andrew Zimmern.

 
Mayor Shirley Jackson       Los Angeles: Lee Hefter

Lee Hefter is a tireless force of nature with immense talents for creating insanely good food with huge flavor profiles. As a managing partner and executive corporate chef of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, he has been responsible for creating some of the most duplicated concepts and recipes in the American food world. Somehow Hefter still has time to cook, incorporating his passion for Asian and Latin flavors, expertise with Mediterranean techniques and his SoCal soul (by way of New Jersey).

Restaurants: As executive corporate chef and managing partner, Hefter oversees the entire Wolfgang Puck fine dining and catering/event groups: Spago, CUT, Chinois, Postrio, 20.21, red/seven and Trattoria del Lupo, to name just a few.

Team Player: Extraordinarily selfless given his own status and level of achievement, Hefter unfailingly credits Barbara Tropp and Wolfgang Puck for his success and his clean, globally influenced style. Asked to name a signature dish, Hefter demurs, but for his trademark references to Japanese or New Age French cuisine, try the hamachi sashimi at 20.21 or the lobster with black truffle sabayon at CUT.

Cut Above: While famous for taking good care of all the A list Hollywood types who flock to Spago and CUT, Hefter cares more about making sure every customer leaves his restaurants impressed with the level of perfection his staffs bring every day to every dish. “This is our obsession,” he tells me. Anyone who understands that, understands what drives him.
 
Pet Peeve: Every chef of note will claim to be disappointed with colleagues who worship at the altar of overworked, convoluted food, but the last time I had that discussion with Hefter we were standing on the street at his favorite eatery in Santa Monica—a humble Oaxacan taco truck. “I would like to believe we are all just trying to make people happy,” he says. This guy lives his brand.
 
Pleasure Principle:
For comfort food, Hefter is obsessed with killer bowls of Chinese noodles; for guilty pleasure, he hits the taco trucks; for fun in the kitchen, he loves playing with pork belly, lobster and squab; for artisanal inspiration, he goes to Paris to nibble on blood sausage, ice cream and pastries. But when it matters most, he’ll take a “cold foggy night in the fall in Piedmont at Da Cesare in Albaretto della Torre with my beautiful wife, white truffles everywhere and a great bottle of Barolo.”

Up Next:
Hefter is busy opening restaurants in Dallas, then L.A., then perhaps Singapore, and the list goes on, but his real dream is to develop programs with inner-city and underprivileged kids to teach them the trade he knows and loves. “Maybe a school in every city,” he says. If you know Hefter, that’s not a flippant fantasy.

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