Crispy suckling pig with apple and chili jam. Japanese curry arancini. Butter lobster ramen. Now that we have your attention: These are just a few new dishes chef Brandon Kida has added to the menu at Hinoki & the Bird. The chef took over the reins last June, and while he’s kept the same global slant to the menu, he’s finally putting his own stamp on things in Century City.
Moving into a role such as this, especially one open after several high-profile shake-ups at the restaurant, most notably David Meyers splitting with the parent company, and chef Kuniko Yagi’s departure shortly after, couldn’t be easy. Kida didn’t come from the ranks of Hinoki. He was previously the opening executive chef at Clement at The Peninsula in New York City; Blenheim Hill Farm in upstate New York before that; and Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental in New York, where he garnered a Star Chef’s Rising Star nod in 2010.
But he is an Angeleno, raised in Koreatown by Japanese-American parents, who exposed him to a world of culinary influences. After annual pilgrimages to Japan, which instilled a love of food and cooking in Kida, he decided to go to the Culinary Instititute of American in Hyde Park, N.Y. He came back to L.A. and landed a starting gig at L’Orangerie. Asian cuisine with French technique: His path was set.
All of this comes to play at Hinoki & the Bird, where he’s changing and updating the menu week to week, month to month. Kida is passionate about utilizing in-season ingredients from local, so he recently launched Wednesday night ICHIBA dinner, a multi-course feast based around things he and his team pick up at the Wednesday market in Santa Monica (“ichiba” means “market” in Japanese).
But we wondered: How difficult is it to take over an existing restaurant, a fairly high-profile one, especially coming from an entirely different city? It’s something chefs and restaurants go through all the time. Here are some of Kida’s thoughts on the process, being back in L.A. and making Hinoki his own.
What it’s like to take over and push a restaurant/culinary program to new heights, to be under that microscope?
It’s a unique challenge for any chef. You’re not the heir because you weren’t a sous or working on the line, and now are simply stepping into a role. You aren’t opening a new restaurant, and thus don’t have all the hype which usually surrounds new concepts. And the restaurant originally opened with lots of celebrity, which sets the bar extremely high for any chef that follows. People are waiting to see if it will maintain its status quo or drastically change. But I welcome the feedback. Relishing in the uncomfortable and pushing beyond motivates me to be my best.
What’s new or different in LA, in your opinion, since your return? How do you view the scene now vs. before you left?
It’s been 15 years since I have lived in Los Angeles. Every year I visit, which is two or three times a year, it changes. The industry seems to be changing for the better. Back in the day as a cook, you had a handful of restaurants to work at. Now it seems the options are endless. And the diner is much more educated, so the bar has been raised. I couldn’t be more excited and happy for my home town. To see it embrace its diversity while at the same time blossoming into a culinary force is really special. I’m so happy to be a part of Los Angeles during this renaissance.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Formulating a direction, leading and learning staff, running the day to day of a restaurant can be stressful enough. Let alone in the shadow of a big-name chef. It’s been a challenge to step out from the shadow of the Hinoki and David Meyers duo. But I enjoy challenges and am honored to be in the same sentence as him.
What are some of the changes on the menu that your most proud of? What else can we look forward to?
I’m super excited about the ICHIBA menu. Time and place have always guided me in my career. So having an outlet to express my appreciation for California ingredients is priceless. It fuels my team’s creativity and talents, as well. The inspiration will spread throughout the entire menu. Embracing farmers, fisherman and foragers is the future of Hinoki & the Bird.
ICHIBA menus are available every Wednesday, starting at $95 per person. Wine pairings and special weekly cocktails are extra.
Hinoki & the Bird, 10 W. Century Dr., Century City, 310-552-1200; hinokiandthebird.com