The Dish

Executive chef of LA’s Cliff’s Edge restaurant and a Stafford native, Michael Bryant talks Virginia vs. L.A., television appearances and staying true to your roots.

Michael Bryant grew up in Stafford and spent time cooking at Richmond’s Linden Row Inn and Europa. Today he is Executive Chef at the famed Cliff’s Edge restaurant on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard. He will join chefs Trevor Knotts and Mike Ledesma for East Coast Meets West Coast Thursday, Nov. 17 as part of Richmond’s Fire, Flour and Fork.

You have deep Virginia roots. What are you doing in Los Angeles?  

I could go back to Virginia but it would be hard to leave Los Angeles after 14 years. It’s a bigger city, the weather is nice, plus the farmers’ market is really nice. And I just bought a house.

The culture is so different, it’s very diverse out here. But Richmond is starting to come up. In the past five years I’ve seen it really blow up with help of people like Michelle Williams [Richmond Restaurant Group], Jason Alley, all those cats. It’s starting to become a formidable city like Charleston or Atlanta.

When I was last cooking there [in 2002] the farmers’ market was nothing, but now it seems like a culture of true farm-to-table is emerging in Richmond.

You’ve done a lot of television. is that a requirement now to be a successful chef?

It is. I hate that fact because I’m old school, but in LA you have a million chefs trying to be the next star and TV helps progress that. Also social media is important. It’s not enough to have word of mouth.

My first major television appearance was being on Chopped four years ago. A lot of people watch Chopped, and that helps people say, “Hey, let’s go check out this place.” It definitely drives traffic. You know, everyone wants to meet the chef.

How is this Southern food trend playing out in LA?  

Oh, it’s big time. It started emerging last year and you have all these top-end chefs doing it. For example, Tim Hollingsworth was the last Chef de Cuisine for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. He just opened up a barbecue spot here. Because of his contacts he’s using all the best ingredients and technique.

A lot of places are doing grits and collard greens and pulled pork. It’s stuff I grew up with. I try to incorporate that because I’m proud to be a Virginian. But I’ve been in LA so long that I’ve kind of adapted. For example, I try to integrate spicy flavors into my cuisine–like chilies and spicy vinegars.

How does the South show up in your cooking?

I like taking Southern cuisine from other countries, like the south of France or south of India. So that’s my South––Southern-style soul food from other countries. I just put a dish on the menu with blowfish. My inspiration is a Peruvian dish called anticucho, a style of street cooking where they take off-cuts of meat, skewer it and grill it with a barbecue-style sauce. That’s a perfect example of who I am, taking Peruvian-style barbecue with a California twist. And we’ll do a late-season heirloom tomato chopped with a little vinegar. Because out here we’ll have tomatoes through December. 

Look for more Q&As with Fire, Flour & Fork chefs coming soon, including Joy Crump, chef and owner of FOODE Restaurant in Fredericksburg. Click here to see our discussion with Jennifer Carroll, chef and owner of Requin in Fairfax.

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