Restaurant 1833 Finally Gets Its Guy
April 13, 2011
I might’ve hired Levi Mezick after one niblet of his lobster "bratwurst"—on a melted Belgium endive with fennel apple sauce and white fish caviar—or the venison loin with pillowy cheese souffle, warm truffled Brussels sprout salad and pomegranate glaze.
That might be why I'm not on Coastal Luxury Management's hiring team.
Mezick was one of more than a dozen up-and-coming stars who entered CLM’s orbit for extensive tasting evaluations that often stretched nine courses. Rob Weakley, David Bernahl, Mark Ayers, James Velarde, Jordan Funk and company were even more selective than they would be normally because their last two chefs for long-anticipated, yet-unopened Restaurant 1833 ended elsewhere.
“We’re looking to find out, ‘How does this person really feel—is he passionate and can I work with him?’” 1833 GM Tobias Peach says. “Can he train, can he inspire? That’s just as important as a bad-ass hamachi dish.
"He exuded a ton of confidence, an ability to express himself and articulate what he wants to do. He has a great presence—not arrogant, but confident that what he is putting out there.”
Not that the food didn’t fly rather high, with a great tuna tartare with horseradish sorbet, and a pork belly dish that Peach says “will be right at home on 1833 menu.”
"You go out to a tasting and you have to be yourself and cook your food and believe in the food you’re cooking," Mezick says. "If they like it, they like it."
“It takes a lot to impress the CLM crew,” Peach adds. “He got ‘Yes’s all the way around.”
Mezick, 35, certainly seems to fit the CLM formula like an oven mitt: pedigreed yet young, experienced but hungry, obsessive yet compatible with the company culture. His resume includes not one but two entries with the biggest names in the foodie universe in Daniel Boulud—Thomas Keller may have more stars, one industry guru told me last week, but Boulud has leveraged his brand brilliantly to greater success—and Mezick played executive sous chef for Cafe Boulud in New York and sous chef at Daniel.
Before Daniel, he was chef de partie at Keller’s Per Se. Most recently he’s been working with Michel Richard at Michel at The Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner in D.C.
“The first thing that stands out is the pedigree,” Peach says. “The second step is when you speak with those guys and they have glowing reviews. A lot of people go through kitchens like that and don’t make it.”
When I asked how he’ll fit with the 1833’s fresh-accessible-rustic gourmet approach, Peach had this:
“He’s real excited about the ingredients he’ll get to work with. He asked me to go down to the farmers markets and take pictures last Tuesday. For chefs who love their craft, that’s what gets them going. Makes them want to write a menu.”
Talking with Mezick, the enthusiastic ingredient anticipation is audible.
"California is where everything comes from that I buy," he says. "I'm not worrying too much about the menu, just looking forward to seeing what’s in season, firing up the pizza oven, see how it reacts, using wood burning grill, getting with local buyers and purveyors, keeping my mind open to what’s fresh—it's all about getting out there and seeing what’s there. Right now morels are popping up, asparagus is everywhere. I can hardly wait to start cooking."
An allegiance to ingredients is what he calls the primary lesson he took from working with the masters.
"If i’ve learned anything from cooking with good chefs," he says, "[It's] if you don’t have great product, who cares what you do with it? And all the product’s there in Monterey."
That said, Monterey's a little bit different fruit than the Big Apple, where he spent almost a decade. I liked what he said when asked what he fears most about coming to a market like ours.
"My biggest concern is acceptance," he says. "I hope not to be looked at like the guy from New York. I want to take time to listen to locals, see what they like and enjoy, not challenge that and try to change that. I really want 1833 to be a place that the the locals of Monterrey feel comfortable coming to."
Upon his arrival April 25, Peach promises 18-hour days developing a menu, putting together a team and training the assembled talent on the 1833 approach.
The last estimate I had on its opening from Bernahl, which came when I swung by for a peek behind the scenes at 1833, was April 15, which isn't happening. But this is a crucial step in that direction.