Interview: chef Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Son of a Gun + Trois Mec)

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Native Floridians Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook arrived in L.A. over a decade ago and have built a successful catering business and restaurant group, which includes Animal, Son of a Gun + Trois Mec. The latter is a fine dining partnership with Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre. On September 11, Dotolo was “Cooking With Friends” Jon Shook and Michelle Bernstein at Animal to promote their involvement as Lexus Culinary Masters. After several courses of service, he shared several culinary insights.

Michelle Bernstein is visiting town and talking about how excited she is about the different restaurants she’s discovering. She wishes she lived in L.A. What is it that you want people who are visiting Los Angeles to take away from their culinary experiences?

Los Angeles is the most diverse city, culinarily, in the country. We have great range. We’re not known for our fine dining, but it’s there. We’re a more casual city, but there’s still amazing food happening here. The diversity, the ethnic strength here – the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai – you can’t really mess with it. There’s so much great stuff that other cities have, but they don’t have the depth we do here. It’s great inspiration for chefs coming to visit, and the guys who live here.

You reference fine dining. Considering you, Jon and Ludo just opened what I would call a fine dining restaurant…

…totally a fine dining restaurant…

…Why is it important to re-insert fine dining into the L.A. dining scene?

People thought and think and say that fine dining is dying, and we don’t believe that. When we worked for Michelle, it was a fine dining restaurant. There’s something I still love about it. I love the process. I love the service. I love the detail. There’s just something in that fast casual environment that you can’t capture, but you can try to carry over some of those philosophies and ideas into it, and shake off some of the extra away. But I still like the extra. I like the pampering. Trois Mec is fine dining, but still a little stripped down.

Beef Los Angeles
In what way?

It’s not as traditional. White table cloths. Extra servers. Lots of staff in the kitchen. It’s still a minimal staff in the kitchen and in the front of the house. It’s still stripped down in the environment. We’re still trying to rethink the fine dining thing a little bit with Ludo, and I really don’t think there’s anybody better in the city to do it with. He’s one of the most talented chefs in the country, and for him to not have a restaurant was crazy. Angelenos and people coming to visit Los Angeles can now visit Ludo’s food on a consistent basis, whereas he was hard to find and hard to get reservations. Not that reservations are easy over there, but they’re consistently there to be had, if you want to get up and make that reservation…Before, he was here for two months, then you wouldn’t see him for two months, then he’s back for two months, but in a completely different place…Besides the fact that he’s just an amazing person, and I love sharing food with him and knowledge and thoughts about food, we have fun. And I think that’s the most important part. We keep saying we just want to have fun doing this.

Would you hire differently at Trois Mec than you would at Animal or Son of a Gun?

Ludo’s in charge of hiring over there, and no, it’s not different, but every restaurant attracts different types of people. Every single restaurant, it’s a different kind of person that wants to cook the food that’s in those places. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different, and I love the differences in all of our restaurants. When it comes to Trois Mec, I love what’s going on over there. It’s so cool. It’s got so much class and quality, through and through, in so many different ways, and it’s just a lot of fun.

Who else do you look to in the restaurant industry for inspiration, guidance or advice?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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