Is alternative dining a creativity incubator, PR machine or
metaphor of our lives and times? BY ETHEL HAMMER
I like dressing rooms because I love change,”
says Isaiah Frizzell, chef/owner of pHeast, a Los Angeles-based
underground supper club. Frizzell started his underground dining career
by attending an event in LA in November 2010 by A Razor, A Shiny
Knife, a group known to do sous-vide in a garbage bag. He attended an
eight-course meal in Venice, Calif., and said, “Hey, I can do this.”
So how did this self-taught chef, who has only held two professional jobs, become one of
LA’s top underground dining impresarios after doing just two dinners? “It was an exuberant
decision to do an underground restaurant,” he says of founding pHeast, relishing how you
can bolt to prominence out of nowhere.
A Texas transplant, Frizzell has endured instability all his life. With no one to help him or
guard his back, he knows how to work in the void. To get pHeast going, he developed a social
media network via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, then cooked dinner for friends, just for the
photos. “It was totally a mixture of logic and chance,” he says.
PHOTO CREDIT: Clockwise from top: 1) David Giral 2) three bottom right images, Felix de Voss 3) Nicole Iizuka/ www.cakeandheels.com
It took him three months to get going. His biggest challenge? To get a blogger to validate
him. So, he invited kevinEats, a 29-year-old writer nominated for a Saveur 2011 Best Food
Blog award, to an event at a private residence in Del Rey, Calif.
Frizzell didn’t have a car, so, working like a culinary nomad, he sourced ingredients all
across LA by using the bus. Or, he borrowed vehicles. Then he toted 12 boxes of blenders,
whisks, dry goods, bottled goods, ice creams, raw seafood, you name it, to an unfamiliar
kitchen in Del Rey. “The leviathan logistics of setting up pHeast are, on their own, so
daunting as to make me cringe and swear,” he says. “It’s a bit like walking a tightrope in
stilettos while juggling flaming chainsaws.”
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: 1) Diner en
Blanc, New York. 2) Right, Babylon
pattern from What Happens When’s Silk
Road movement. 3) Left, names/model
figures of those who supported the
What Happens When project.
4) What Happens When exterior.
5) Isaiah Frizzell gives a cooking demo
after leading a group through the Santa
Monica, Calif., farmers market.
The night of his kevinEats event, Frizzell served eight courses, working with just one other
person in the unfamiliar kitchen and so nervous with so much to prove. But Kevin was
charmed, first, with a trio of clams on a powdered sand of shiitake mushrooms and white and
black sesame, and next, with a course of yuba, milk skin, nasturtium, edamame, English pea,
lavender and yuzu. And Kevin’s ardor didn’t flag as veal sweetbreads danced out of the kitchen
accompanied by stinging nettle, crab, pickled bluefoot, elderflower and oat grouts, with other
morsels to follow in unexpected combinations.