Bobby Flay’s Forgotten Sherman Oaks Origin Story, An Opera Restaurant in LA, Taxicab Confidential, and Other Moments That Deserve a Home
Hi, everybody. Here’s what I think will be a fun recurring feature: As publishing date for Chefs, Drugs,and Rock & Roll–my book about the American chefs of the 1970s and 1980s–approaches (it’s now available for preorder), I am going to be sharing some stories that are amusing and/or interesting, but that I couldn’t find room for in the book without slowing down the narrative, or exceeding my allotted word count. I’ll do this periodically for the foreseeable future, until the gems run out. To kick things off, here are some of the cuts that hurt the most:
Bobby’s Flay’s Excellent Adventure
The year was (probably) 1987. A young cook named Bobby Flay had graduated the French Culinary Institute, honchoed his own kitchen (before he was really ready for it), worked for Jonathan Waxman at Bud’s, which had a Southwestern bent, and other restaurants the red-hot chef co-owned with partner Melvyn Master. Bobby was on the launchpad to success at a time when the profession was rocketing to another place. But he’d been working for almost eight years and was burnt out and sick of making a cook’s wage when a lot of kids from the old neighborhood (in his case, the Upper East Side) were raking in New York money on Wall Street, buying their first apartments. He shelved his knives and took an entry-level job “in the wires” of the (now defunct) American Stock Exchange. But he found the non-creative, cutthroat environment soul-crushing, and noted with horror that every man in sight had lost his hair. The same connection who set him up in the financial world called him with an opportunity to get back in the kitchen, as chef of a new restaurant … in Sherman Oaks, California.
Bobby was torn. He wanted back into the restaurant world, but was a New Yorker to the core. From a phone booth in the basement of the Stock Exchange, he made the Golden State restaurateur a preposterous offer: “I want fifty-thousand dollars a year; I want 10 or 15 percent of the profits; and I want a company car–a Honda Accord.” Bobby laughs when he tells this next part: “He goes ‘done,’ and I fucking move to California. Nobody knew who I was.”
The restaurant was Turquoise Cafe, a Southwestern bistro on Ventura Boulevard. Though virtually un-Google-able today, it was reviewed in the LA Times by a witty young writer then going by J.D. Gold. Bobby is not mentioned by name, but the review is a fascinating glimpse of the young chef finding his voice….