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Chefs Discuss the Future of Dining in Los Angeles

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What will dining look like in the coming years?

Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

In accordance with Future Weekwhich is happening at mothership site this whole week, Eater LA asked chefs around town to talk about what the future of dining might look like in the city of Angels.

Evan Funke

evan-funke-bucato-profile.0.0.jpgI think the days of writing off Los Angeles as a blasé or unimportant cooking community are very much over. Los Angeles is an epicenter of culinary authenticity and diversity with unrivaled access to amazing farmers and impeccable ingredients. LA is poised to dominate if we continue to cook and serve with heart and integrity.

Chris Oh, Seoul Sausage Company

chris_oh.0.0.jpgThe future of fine dining is as bright as ever. I think fine dining has evolved into something much larger than white table clothes and fancy silverware. Fine dining to me is taking that first bite and having that holy shit moment and we are so lucky to be living in a city where we can get that whether you're wearing a suit at Providence or rocking shorts and flip flops waiting in line at Guerrilla Tacos.

Kyle Schute, The Flats

Kyle_Schutte.0.0.jpgWhat is the future of food in my city? This question is one most chefs constantly have in the back of their mind. How do I stay ahead of the curve? How can I set a trend? Where is the next big thing? Lately though when it comes to Los Angeles this question is less about staying relevant and more about survival.

Since the city recently passed the $15 an hour minimum wage I fear we will likely see a near extinction of high end dining. Sure, the extreme fine dining restaurants that cater to the 1% will be able to justify the added expense as they cater to those who can afford it while the large group of upscale casual eateries that litter LA will no doubt have a tough time finding the right balance of staffing levels and menu pricing.

Much like what happened during the recession in 2008, we will likely see a rise in QSR (quick service restaurant) models. Along the same lines, more automation is likely by way of computerized ordering with paying touchscreens and smartphone aps which have already begun to sprout up. When it comes to the increase in minimum wage, upscale restaurants will be hit especially hard because while we employ many people currently being paid less than $15 an hour, they rarely if ever make up our customer base and still won't be able to with this bump in pay.

So while we are being forced to pay unskilled labor $15 we will not see this money trickle back in our front door. Instead, this may mean that the labor force that currently accounts for most of our reservations will not likely see a raise in their pay and may even see some layoffs. Furthermore, since the city has damn near taken away any other avenue for restaurants to alleviate some of this burden (adjusted rates for tipped employees, service charges to include BOH, etc.) restaurants will have no choice but to raise prices further shrinking their potential customer base.

Los Angeles has one of the worst talent pools for true cooks I have come across

Worse yet, and possibly unknown to many, nationwide great cooks are disappearing by the second and Los Angeles has one of the worst talent pools for true cooks I have come across. Ask a chef if he knows of any good cooks in this city and you will likely get a laugh. Pair this with the inevitable proximity to wages between a restaurant's best lead cook and their $15 an hour dish-washer and a total collapse of skilled and motivated labor is not far-fetched because the bottom line is chefs in this city are hard-pressed to find cooks who are willing to work their asses off for the love of the food like many of us are.

The current workforce in Los Angeles is lazy, entitled and spoiled and with the impending raise in minimum wage I cannot see this getting anything but worse. I wish this is where the bad news stopped, but now we have to take servers into account. The parasite of the "entertainment" server (meaning the "actor" or "musician" or "model" or "comedian") has for a long time infected the entirety of the Los Angeles restaurant culture. Now try telling people who would rather be on set, know nothing about food and truly hate serving their guests that they will no longer be getting tips because many restaurants will likely ditch the tipping system altogether in lieu of higher minimum wages and congratulations, you've taken away the one motivation they had to even consider expelling enough effort to give decent service.

Now if it seems like I am bitter; well I am, but while I think the more immediate future may be bleak there may in my opinion be hope for the more distant future. Voids are followed by a resurgence and someday, maybe if things can level out, if we don't destroy our middle class by making them fight over remedial work while more and more jobs are automated and lost to technology, then perhaps upscale dining will find its way back to Los Angeles. The only question is how far behind the curve will we be?

Rebecca Merhej, Love & Salt

Rebecca Merhej SmallThe dining scene in Los Angeles currently is this crazy melting pot of new inventive takes on cuisines from all over the world. I think the future dining scene will become more and more inventive and full of crazy new concepts. There is so much talent in Los Angeles and fresh ideas happening all the time that I personally think that what's happening now is just a little taste of what LA has to offer...

Jason Fullilove, Clifton's

JasonFullilove1.0.0.jpgI moved to LA in 2009, around the same time of the economic crisis in America and also the same time that Michelin left LA. Interestingly, we started to see a lot of smaller, amazing chef-driven restaurant concepts popping up at the same time. Since then, I think the food in the city has become consistently better and rivals all other great food cities in America. The love of product and execution will only continue to develop. I also feel you're going to see a lot more quick service concepts with high quality, professionally executed foods.

Sean Lowenthal, Little Beast

08_2014_ONE_YEAR_IN_LITTLE_BEAST-71__1_.0.0.jpgI think that in the near future, trends will continue to expand, such as fine dining chefs opening more casual restaurants that are ingredient based and focused on technique. I think that more well executed, sustainably focused counter service restaurants will open that are ingredient driven. And, with the expected new hourly wage increase, chefs and owners are going to be opening ambitious quick casual style restaurants that require much less manpower, focusing on cuisine while minimizing labor. There remains a demand for great breakfast restaurants in LA, and there is still quite a need to open great Spanish restaurants.

Cameron Slaugh, Osteria La Buca

SMS_BUCA_H_B_071115_IMG_3505_1.0.0.jpgHaving been in the LA for the past year, I have noticed a migration of out of state chefs like myself. LA has become the new frontier for the dining industry. While some LA restaurants and chefs continue to follow fads trends, they forget about the overall guest experience. I predict that this influx of chefs will create a renaissance in the LA food scene, with restaurants focusing not only on creating great plates, but a great dining experience. LA will soon take its place as one of the leading "food" cities.

Nick Liberato, The Whaler

Venice_Whaler_-_Chef_Nick_Liberato.0.0.jpgI feel that the future of dining in Los Angeles will certainly be moving away from fine dining. With the changing of minimum wage within the hospitality business, I feel that will drastically change what our dining experiences are all about. I see a lot of counter service and food and beverages just being delivered to the table without servers. That will be a better business model than what people are currently running. I think a more relaxed beer garden experience or cafeteria style service like at Lemonade is a really good way to go for business owners. Also, consumers having to pay a lot puts a bad taste in everyone's mouth, including the upper class.

Katsuji Tanabe, Mexikosher

bad_ass.0.0.jpgFor the first time, chefs are moving from the back of the house to the front. I predict more chef-oriented restaurants serving what they love to cook. No more menus that try to cater to everyone at once —good riddance to chicken Caesar salad and molten chocolate lava cake, more rustic flavors, vegetables moving from side dish to entree. Los Angeles is well on its way to becoming the new a food capitol.

Nyesha Arrington, LEONA

IMG_0515.0.jpgI'm excited for the bright future of dining in LA and we talk about it everyday at the restaurant. Our beautiful Golden State has an allure like no other, something almost magical.

In the future, I see a melting pot of the cultures and flavors in Los Angeles. I believe we'll watch the food cultures of Los Angeles denationalize and become a more united Angeleno cuisine with all of it's ethnic influences. We will see more positive growth in our sourcing practices with steps toward ethical and sustainable supply chains of food and restaurant equipment. We'll build deeper connections to farmers and ranchers from the markets and media. With the threat of scarcity, maybe farmers will become the new rockstars of the food world.

I feel technology will become more ubiquitous in the dining experience. Whether it's in consumer restaurant apps and digital experiences, or ways to incorporate technology and new dining etiquette, or innovating the back of house management tools. All of the above will become more streamlined with the digital systems being created and implemented.

Being an LA native and cooking professionally for 15 years, I've watched the trends come and go. Yet still, for me, chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Nancy Silverton, Susan Goin, Micheal Cimarusti, Josiah Citrin, Mary Sue and Susan Feniger are the Chefs who create the direction dining will take in Los Angeles. They are the Chefs who build future leaders, and I have been very fortunate to work next to all of them to see this.

The future of dining in LA lies in the inspired mind of the youth. As chefs and entrepreneurs, we have a responsibly to run a good business and plant seeds to grow a beautiful tomorrow. We like to think we're making our own small steps toward that with Leona.

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Jon & Vinny's

jon-vinny-facebook.0.0.0.jpgJon: With the cost of high-quality ingredients going up alongside with minimum wage, this will force restaurants to cut back on service or find other areas where they're able to. I think we're going to see service and servers in restaurants go down dramatically in the dining room over the next couple of years. The future of LA's dining scene looks bright with tons of world-known accredited chefs and restauranteurs coming to open restaurants in LA with the along with young chefs taking risks and taking a swing at it.

Vinny: I feel like it will continue to grow rapidly and expand into more neighborhoods east of center city. The food will get more diverse in the landscape of the entire Los Angeles dining scene. Hopefully we have enough water!

Gaby Mlynarczyk, Birch

Gaby.0.jpgThe LA food scene is developing more rapidly I think than any others And diners are getting more and more sophisticated, everyone thinks they're a foodie these days. The competition is getting harder restaurants can no longer be mediocre , it's our job to make every detail excellent or fail completely. The same goes with bar programs, service and product have to be top notch, middle of the road and slapped together don't cut it anymore.

Steve Samson, Sotto

Steve_Headshot.0.jpgThe future is the past! I foresee an emphasis on highly regional ethnic cooking, executed by talented chefs. I also predict exploration of older cooking techniques: lots of wood, house made products, etc.

Neal Fraser, Redbird

130819-Vibiana-Chef-Neal-2622.0.jpgI think the future of LA dining is more restaurants that are not all the same. Less small plates. More restaurants focused on international flavors like Cassia and the upcoming Ori Menasche Israeli restaurant. Greater diversity. And more restaurants close to subway stops.

Mary Sue Milliken, Border Grill

MarySueMilliken2.0.jpgLA is where the good food movement is thriving and strong.  My crystal ball shows me a proliferation of neighborhood eateries that are delicious, serving predominantly plant based dishes at affordable prices.  International flavors and restaurant concepts will continue to debut especially Latin focused:  Brazilian, Cuban, Portuguese, Chilean, El Salvadorian, Columbian - we're in for a real treat.