Marshall Blair of Blair’s Restaurant did his time in the kitchen, and today he has a sweet little neighborhood place in Silver Lake, which has settled in to become a classic and steady hang for dinner among the locals. All this is to say, food is his thing.
So what’s his first memory of making food? Believe it or not, that would be Tuna Casserole when he was five years old. His Mom made it, so he wanted to make it too. Once this was mastered he moved to the next round.
“Whenever I slept at my friend’s house I wanted to make the family breakfast in the morning.”
What would breakfast be? … The Egg McMuffin. Where does one go from there?
“I was from Iowa,” he explains, and he covered all four-food groups of Iowa state – pork, butter, wheat, and cholesterol. His interest in food grew on into his teen years, and early twenties, and he was the go-to guy for that 3:00 A.M. end of a drunken night meal. Then came a stint as a waiter (of course) and finally the games start with a sabbatical in France.
Being a chef is a tough gig. The training is intense, and not only the rigors of learning food; the chemistry of process, along with technique and sensibility, there is a concrete social structure in a restaurant kitchen. Executive Chef, Chef de Cuisine, Sous Chef, prep chef, on and on, down to the dishwasher (Plongeur) and pot washer (Marmiton.)
So Blair goes to France, and works beneath one of the classically trained Deacons of that holy order of French Cuisine. He comes back to Chicago and does some time in the kitchen at Charlie Trotter’s, which I would describe as a French Laundry of Chicago. And then came the move to Los Angeles with a few restaurant jobs that brought him to The Water Grill, and on to the final venue before being – FIRED!
So often a solution can only be found within a catastrophe. And to hear Blair tell it, he was sitting at the Coffee Table across from the building where Blair’s Restaurant started and remains. He was drinking coffee with the last portion of his last unemployment check, that was mostly gone, and he’d run out of ideas and the desire to try and work for someone else again. Desperation is the best incentive.
What used to be the Thai American Grill looked ready for retirement, so he got up, walked across the street and through the doors to negotiate with the owner. He found an investor, and cut a deal to buy the business, take over the lease, and along with the restaurant stove, and some plumbing infractions he started construction on Blair’s Restaurant.
Was he scared?
“No, weirdly enough, I wasn’t. Everything was right about it,” he explains. “The sun was kind of shining on the whole deal, which is how it goes.”
He claims that service is the most important aspect about a restaurant, and after picking apart this theory, it boils down to the fact that food should be a given, and service is where it matters.
So what did he learn from the French?
“I think the main thing I learned was how they saw food, their life revolves around it. Your average mechanic knows all about Champagne.” Oddly, it’s sort of true. As a culture they take the time to ritualize a meal, and no toddler is too young to try calf brains, or escargots, and this includes his own daughter who tries the chicken liver appetizer below.
Now that Blair’s Restaurant has been open for fourteen-years, Marshall has gotten more focused, “The older I get the more I want to slow it down,” he says. “I’m pissed when I get a bad meal, something shitty and careless.”
Me, too. But sometimes (sadly) I eat it anyway.
“I don’t like wasting a meal on something bad,” and once he thinks about it, you can tell he means what he’s about to say — “I’m really starting to see that life is precious, and it’s kind of great.” To which I add, that it’s also moving quickly. And once we agree, he makes his point. “And not worth having a bad meal.”
2901 Rowena Ave. | Silver Lake