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How They Got Cooking Cooking

RESTAURANT SPECIAL

Southland Chefs Remember Their Kitchen Epiphanies

April 27, 1997

"I was in Michigan, training in French biodynamic farming. All the people there had a mission to create the purest, best-tasting produce. I loved the intensity and the community and sense of mission, but nobody knew how to cook what we grew. I focused on trying to do things with all that food, imagining how great it would be to make a Chinese bao or a Vietnamese spring roll. Yet it also seemed like a total mystery. Finally, my teacher at the farm, Alan York, told me that I had way too much energy and enthusiasm to be farming and that I should be cooking. It was just the thing I needed to hear. I came straight home to Los Angeles, to Giuseppe's, then to study with Claude Segal just as Ma Maison was closing and then to Bistango with him. After that, I studied in France and Japan."

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Neela Paniz, chef and co-owner of Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles

"I'm not sure there was one moment. It was more like many nagging moments. Every time I made a meal for my husband, children or friends, it came up: You should really have your own restaurant. I was working in the loan department of a bank. I hated the loan department. The day I quit, I knew I wasn't ever going back--the drudgery of a 9-to-5 job was intolerable--nor was I going to sit at home and do nothing. I'd known all along what I really wanted to do. Two years later, I opened Chutneys, which served Indian fast food."

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