Tara Lazar is a self-trained chef who’s carved out quite a niche in Palm Springs with Foundation 10 Creative‘s diverse roster. She started with popular breakfast spot Cheeky’s in 2008 and has since added Italian-inspired Birba and a boutique hotel called Alcazar on the same block. F10 also runs pan-Latin Chi Chi at the Avalon Palm Springs, and her group recently updated iconic Lyons English Grille, which now goes by Mr. Lyons. I met Lazar at Chi Chi in August, and followed up by e-mail to learn more about her philosophy and approach.
Joshua Lurie: Was it a given that you would become a chef and restaurateur, or did you consider other careers?
Tara Lazar: Not even close, I was a stock trader during my 20s, moved back to Palm Springs and was annoyed there wasn’t any good breakfast. My dad offered to pay me to NOT get into the restaurant biz. Quite a fluke. But in hindsight, I was always fascinated with food, eating, seeking out tasty snacks, etc.
JL: What do you remember about the first night that you cooked professionally in a restaurant kitchen?
TL: It was a morning (not a night), at Cheeky’s. I had no idea what I was doing, didn’t even know which way the chits should go. The line cook next to me had never worked a hot station and the griddle kept burning the pancakes. We turned it down and the pancakes came out undercooked. I think the first order came out about 25 minutes after it was rung in and 6 rounds of pancakes later.
JL: What are some of the unique challenges you face as a chef and restaurateur in Palm Springs, and how do you overcome them?
TL: As a chef, I always want more intense flavors that really capture the essence of the dish: a tomato salad should really taste tomatoey – it shouldn’t taste like dressing. And we are at the mercy of our local farms to provide us tasty tomatoes. However, when their truck breaks down or they aren’t going to make it down the hill that day, we have neither tasty tomatoes nor tomatoes at all…which is the challenge in this laid back resort town – labor and professionalism. Much of our lovely predominantly local team has not been exposed to the foods we are cooking or the experience we are providing so there is a steep learning curve that requires passion which is always hard to teach.
JL: What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?