SPOTLIGHT // CHEF DAVID BARTNES

Have you ever had a soul moving, knock you off your feet, damn that's good meal? We did, one night, when we were invited to taste Chef David Bartnes' menu as a guest chef at Madera Kitchen. Often food is just food, but when it is art, boy is it magical.

We spoke to Chef David to learn more about being a daring creative.

Officially I'm a Chef but really I'm just a cook. I've run a number of different operations over the last 16 years, from restaurants, hotels, catering, nightclubs and consulting.

Now I'm partnered with a company called Wildwood Ovens and BBQ's in Eagle Rock, where we have The Test Kitchen. Here we teach people how to use wood fired ovens and grills, as well as other cooking techniques and various cuisines. We also use the space to host private parties as well as a members only dining club.

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When did you decide to pursue your current career path?

Spring 1998. I was living in London at the time, trying to figure out what to do with my life. I had it in my head to play in a band, get signed and live the rock n roll dream. But life happened....Just as I entered my twenties, I had my first child with my high school sweetheart and needed to figure things out fast. I knew I wasn't built for your typical desk job, was never really academic in that sense. But even so, I tried to go down the college route but barely into the notion,  it suddenly dawned on me that I had this passion for feeding people. Combined with missing all my food from childhood, this was the UK after all, I knew then and there that I wanted to become a Chef. So I quit that idea and jumped straight into culinary school and haven't looked back.

In your words, what does it mean to be a creative?

It's the transfer of soul powered by the heart. The brain is just a cog in the process. Its about flowing free and allowing everything and everyone who has planted a place in your psyche to sing in one voice to say, this is me and this is my contribution to the world.

 

What is the biggest misconception about what you do?

That it is  a glamorous and easy job to do. It's not all like what you see on TV. Standing on your feet up for 14 hours a day, at least six days a week, in constant danger from fire, hot oil, scalding water...not to mention that kitchens are usually cramped and hot.  Rarely being able to celebrate major holidays with loved ones, missing out on anniversaries and birthdays....this is what I tell people who want to get into the industry. This job can wreak havoc on your personal life, so if things like weekends with friends, Christmas or even the occasional night off is what you expect, think again. It's a hard, fast paced environment that is not suited for everybody. Just because you may be a whiz at your weekend barbecue or your family loves a certain dish of yours, does not mean a successful chef will be. It's a lot of sacrifice, plenty of humiliation and pain but for the right person, it brings such a sense of satisfaction... It takes passion.

Who is someone famous that you think is killing it at the moment? In other words, is there someone whose career you admire.

Wow, that's a hard one since there are so many in my field that I admire. Locally here in LA, I'd have to say it's my friend Chef Bruce Kalman from Union in Pasadena. His food is so honest and his food is truly representative of who he is as a human being. And the honesty shows in his successes, blowing up on TV, best of awards, a line of spice rubs....when I grow up, I wanna be like him. Hahaha.

Finish this sentence...

Happiness is: Friends and family gathered around a long table enjoying good conversation, food and wine.

My biggest frustration is: People killing each other in the name of race, religion and a theoretical ideal.

I couldnt live without my: Kids. Besides their contagious energy, they teach me so much everyday that we are all human and keep me grounded.

 

For more on Chef David Bartnes, see his work here.

Photos by Michael De La Madrid.