There is a simple reason why Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson are Eater’s 2017 chefs of the year. In January, 2017, the chef duo opened Kismet on the edge of Los Feliz, and are dedicated to churning out exemplary Middle Eastern food all day, to a neighborhood that appreciates what they do.
Hymanson and Kramer are youthful powerhouses who previously hit noticeable high notes with Madcapra in Grand Central Market, and New York’s Glasserie, before launching Kismet, their nod to the flavors of the Middle East and Levant. The accolades came, as did the customers. Eater sat down with the two Sara(h)s to learn about their first year of business, and being named Eater LA’s 2017 chefs of the year.
On cooking elevated Middle Eastern food:
A natural choice for Hymanson and Kramer, Middle Eastern food is about identity and exploration. Hymanson is most inspired by the region, and the diversity. As for Kramer, “My mother and most of her family are Israeli. When opening Glasserie in 2013, I was aware that people were not featuring this food in the same way as French or Italian food. It never really occurred to me that we would be at the forefront of a trend. This is something that I love. There’s a whole region to explore. I get to take advantage of and be excited by this cuisine. It never occurred to me that we were riding a trend. It can only help this cuisine proliferate, and get more people eating it.”
On being ahead of the Middle Eastern restaurant trend:
Both agree that this was not their focus. Says Hymanson: “I really try not to think about trends. It’s been wonderful to work so hard and see that work pay off, and feel like the community has embraced us. I do feel like we’re a neighborhood restaurant, which is something that we really wanted to be.”
About the pricing situation:
When former LAWeekly reviewer Besha Rodell focused on Kismet, she took aim at the prices. Rodell wasn’t the first to note this, and Hymanson and Kramer believe the complaints are part of a larger, systemic problem. “I feel like we give good price portions,” says Hymanson. “If you look at restaurants that source sustainably and have good work environments, we are comparably priced. But if you compare our prices to a Middle Eastern place in the Valley, we are more expensive. That’s unfortunate, but this is part of a much larger conversation related to accessibility, the way people relate to ethnic food, and the way people think about the value of vegetables. It brings up a whole bunch of issues within the industry as a whole.”
Kramer believes the Kismet has been singled out for this reason. “When you compare us to restaurants that have opened this year, that have been reviewed favorably, cost does not factor in (to their reviews). But our prices are always seen as more expensive, and our quality is comparable. I have to wonder where the motivation for seeing us as different is coming from. There are very clear examples to me of other restaurants that are doing great work, that don’t get accused of being expensive in the same way that we do. I don’t know if it’s because we cook ethnic food. I don’t know if it has something to do with us being women. This food requires more effort than a counter service place.”
As partners with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Kramer trusts Kismet’s price point. “We’re not outliers in our pricing. We belong to a group of restaurants. We’re partners with Jon and Vinny, who are partners with Ludo [Lefebvre]. There are seven restaurants in this group. We’re part of a system that’s very carefully considered. No one in our group has expressed any concerns that we’re unfairly priced. Why are we getting singled out for it?”
On being named chefs of the year:
Looking back at Kismet’s first year is extraordinary. With the whirlwind of press and attention, one would believe Hymanson and Kramer are openly focused on their customers. For Hymanson, their success is about being a presence in the neighborhood. “It’s been wonderful to work so hard and see that work payoff. I feel like the community has embraced us, and I do feel like we’re a neighborhood restaurant, which is something we always wanted to be. Regulars come in to eat, hang out at the bar, or staff come in to eat, so that’s wonderful.”