Cooking with fire is hot these days. At Hatchet Hall, Brian Dunsmoor prepares nearly everything in a blazing brick hearth. At Bavel, Ori Menashe sears his lamb neck over a roaring fire and bakes fresh pita in a wood-fueled oven. But at the new Angler in the Beverly Center—an offshoot of San Francisco’s critical darling—chef Joshua Skenes is taking flame cooking to new temps.
A massive 32-foot-wide, wood-fired hearth-and-grill construction dominates the gleaming open kitchen. Flames occasionally leap toward the ceiling and illuminate nearly the entire 110-seat dining room. Skenes uses an intricate arrangement of precise heat zones to cook everything from Santa Barbara spot prawns to hen of the woods mushrooms.
“You’re using smoke to tease out nuances over time,” says Skenes, who was inspired by the woodsy campfire cooking he grew up with in rural Florida. He creates beds of embers in the hearth so that ingredients can cure and cook for hours, days, or sometimes weeks with anything from pristine scallops to scraps like fish bones and fermented melon rinds.
The long brick-and-metal setup that Angler relies on was designed to be used in multiple ways. Prawns or an 88-day dry-aged rib eye might be quickly seared close to the embers, while flounder poached in butter needs less firepower. Above the grilling racks is a gymnasium’s worth of metal bars and hooks. A whole pastured chicken gets a sort of Peking duck treatment. It’s hung high over the flames for a few days before its skin is rubbed with honey and crisped to a perfect golden brown. The process makes for meat that is succulent and moist, somehow tasting more like a chicken than any chicken you’ve ever eaten.“To me, the taste of something cooked over fire is almost always better,” Skenes says. The 36-year-old chef is quick to point out that a kitchen like Angler’s does not come together overnight. “Every technique here has a tool attached to it, and basically all of it was custom designed,” he says.
The hearth’s most crucial element is a firebox that dispenses embers as needed but is so well insulated that you can hold your hand within inches of it comfortably. A smoke-filtration system—costing $900,000—keeps the interior air remarkably clear.
“Humans have been cooking over embers for a very long time,” Skenes says. “We’re just trying to take it to the next level.”
8500 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove, anglerrestaurants.com.
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