What are the common threads in the type of person you would hire to work for you?
I don’t think there’s one common thread besides that they all have a passion for food. If you don’t have a passion for food, then you’re starting from a bad spot in our group. You don’t have to be super knowledgeable. You don’t have to be the best cook, the best server, and if you’re really passionate, it comes across in your interview. Usually we’re able to mold you into what it is we’re looking for. It’s a little different here because you can’t expect somebody to show up here and cook your style. Even your best chefs, our best guys, our Chef Ds, our sous chefs, when they come here, it takes time. Vinny always makes funny of me: “You hate everybody for the first 90 days.” I don’t really hate ‘em, but I kind of do, in a weird way. It’s an initiation period, in a weird way. Once you get to be part of the family, one of the guys that works for us says, “Once you get Animal in your blood, it’s hard to get it out.” It’s cool though. I love it. I love coming to work every day, whether it’s here, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, catering, some random thing you never even knew you’d be involved in, to get to cook every day and talk about food and dine. Dining’s one of the best things. Michelle, actually, when we worked for her, said, “It’s really important to make sure you go out to eat a lot, because you’re going to learn a lot, dining.” Even to this day, we just came back from Chicago, and me and Vinny ate over the whole city.
Where’d you go in Chicago?
Where didn’t we go? We were at Next. We were at all of Paul Kahan’s places. We saw Graham Eliot out there, because we’re friends with that group. You obviously gravitate to them. Then we had a small list of places we wanted to check out. We went to Urban Belly. All of these chefs trade restaurants to go eat at and check out. We went to Fat Rice, which just got one of Bon Appetit’s best restaurants this year. It’s cool to see it, and it inspires us. One thing me and Vinny do constantly, when we’re out traveling, we’re always looking for what L.A. doesn’t have. L.A. has a ton. We have more than most cities have, but it’s weird. You’ll see little gaps we don’t have, or things move out of coolness, and that’s what we try to target when we’re creating and developing and targeting to those worlds.
Did you see some elements in Chicago you’d like to bring back to L.A.?
Without a doubt. More so design. Now that’s what I’m trying to think about with the new space, is design and materials, which is huge. Things become so trendy in restaurants, very fast. I remember these Edison bulbs, six years were nowhere. Now you probably name five restaurants yourself that have the Edison bulbs without any problem. At the end of the day, I’m happy. I’m psyched. Now all these things coming in, like the Lexus thing, are like an added bonus. It’s super cool. They’re giving us SUVs that we’re going to get to dog out, catering, which is cool.
How big a big of your life is catering?
Catering’s huge. We have a full sales team and in-house coordinators. Mike, who’s helping out tonight, is the catering chef, and he has sous chefs and cooks underneath them. This year we’re going to have six events. Each of those six events, all six of them will be larger than 500 people. We do a ton of little stuff too, but once you start getting in that world and those larger productions, it’s such a different game. The production element overpowers the food. You’ve got to be so organized to produce a party of that size. It’s a different way of cooking. It’s nuts.
What’s the biggest challenge in catering?
Nothing’s ever the same. That’s the biggest challenge. Your house, you have the pens in the same spot every day. Imagine you go catering, the pen’s never in the same spot. I said pen because you’re a writer.
As you’re expanding your restaurant group, I imagine you’re cooking less.
I’m definitely cooking less, but I’m not developing less. I’m actually developing more, which is interesting, because our brigade’s bigger. When Animal first started out, we couldn’t do anything else. It was only Animal. There was me and Vinny and four servers that worked six days a week. We had six line cooks. We didn’t have a prep cook at all. Now we have a brigade at every restaurant. We have awesome Chef Ds, awesome sous chefs. Those guys, you can go to and say, “Bring this in, bring that, I want to test this, test that.” They’re able to have that ready for you, so it’s almost like a nice assist. Or you’re assisting them in developing. Either way you want to look at it. We spend more time now developing and not peeling garlic and peeling onions and sweating on the line as much as we actually get time to develop the brand and develop the company. We’ve done things that are not mundane, but I love peeling onions, and I love going home, and when I’m taking a hot shower, I can smell the garlic in my fingernails. Michelle [Bernstein] one time, she took my hands, looked at them and she was like, “You haven’t been working that hard,” because there were no calluses or crud under the fingernails. That’s all part of it.
When people hear your name, what do you want them to think of?
When people hear Jon Shook, I want people to just be happy. Obviously I want them to like my food, and I want them to like the environments we create, whether it’s Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, the new project, whatever, but I want them, when they hear Jon Shook, to crack a smile and be happy. There are a lot of people that I think of, when I hear their name, I’m always like, “They’re so cool. I love them. They’re so nice.” They just make me happy thinking about them. That, for me, would hold the most appeal.