Keith Corbin is ready to cook. Standing in the nearly finished dining room of Alta Adams, the 39-year-old Watts native is already picturing customers filling the stools in front of the open kitchen at his neo-soul-food restaurant and coffee shop in West Adams. “Anyone who sits here is going to get fat,” he says with a grin. “I’ll be handing them dishes all night. I love feeding people.”
Three years ago Corbin was a newly hired manager at Locol, the community-focused fast-food concept from chefs Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi blocks away from where Corbin grew up (103rd and Grape Streets). Though he’d never cooked professionally, Corbin was immediately recognized for his skills in the kitchen. “He had a great palette, a creative mind, and was quick to synthesize new information,” says Patterson, who operates Coi restaurant and Alta Group locations in the Bay Area. “Those are the fundamental qualities for any chef; everything else can be taught.”
Corbin spent the next few years bouncing between Northern and Southern California, cooking at Locol and Patterson’s other restaurants, an empire that started to expand as more chef-affiliated concepts were opened under the Alta Group umbrella. When plans were made for an outpost in L.A., Patterson saw a chance to further grow the community-minded system he’d implemented. “It became clear to me that the opportunity for restaurant ownership, especially in fine dining, wasn’t being afforded to everyone,” he says. “Alta Group was a small step toward removing those artificial barriers and addressing inequality.”
Open since mid-October inside a transformed Spanish Revival building along Adams Boulevard, Alta Adams has a menu that focuses on soul food classics (oxtail and rice, baked yams, shrimp and grits, pork chops with chowchow relish) reengineered with California produce and fine-tuned techniques. “Soul food was always a regional thing in the South,” Corbin says. “But after the Great Migration, those fresh ingredients are now coming out of cans. We don’t have to do that now. Let’s utilize what we have here.”
You might not realize that Corbin has slipped soy and miso paste into the braised oxtail or almond milk and candied pecans into the yams, but that’s the point. He’s used to skeptics doubting any soul food that isn’t served in Styrofoam, but for him Alta Adams means offering authentic food without sacrificing the dining experience—table service, cocktails and wine, a gorgeous outdoor patio. “What we’re doing might seem different,” he says, “but take one bite and tell me that’s not your grandma’s cooking.’”
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