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My Son, the Chef

Forget about brunch. For Wilshire Restaurant's Andrew Kirschner, Mother's Day means an alfresco dinner that's all about the season.

May 04, 2008|Laurie winer | Laurie Winer is a contributing editor at the magazine. Contact her at laurie.woner@latimes.com.

Hannah and Jeff Kirschner eat at Wilshire, the relaxed yet sophisticated restaurant in Santa Monica, at least once a week.

It's hard to say which they love more--the food or the chef.

The food is earthy and honest--wood-grilled steaks, tangerine-and-chili-spiked mussels, a dramatic deep-fried whole Thai snapper. The chef is their youngest son, Andrew.

Andrew Kirschner is a local boy made good, a chef coming into his own after steadily working his way through town, first at Joe's and Axe in Venice, then moving on to the short-lived Chadwick in Beverly Hills. He's worked with Suzanne Goin at Lucques in West Hollywood and Silvio De Mori at De Mori (now closed), and he's partnered with Govind Armstrong at Table 8 in Los Angeles.

In 2007, he landed at Wilshire Restaurant as chef de cuisine. When executive chef Christopher Blobaum left in February, Kirschner stepped in to fill his shoes.

"His instinct for what people in L.A. want to eat right now is dead-on," wrote L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila in March in a three-star review of his "effortless-seeming" California cuisine.

His parents try to appear nonchalant, but they are obviously bursting with pride. "He was born ready," Hannah says. The daughter of Holocaust survivors who were naturally protective parents (Hannah had to live at home while attending UCLA), Hannah tries hard not to hover. "We let Andrew and his brother know we would get them through college, and then they would be on their own. Andrew was very capable and very independent early on."

"He puts his artistic feeling into his food," Jeff says. "It smells good, tastes good and looks good. I cook, but I don't have artistic talent like Andrew."

Andrew cooks for his parents and their friends from time to time, for New Year's Eve and their gourmet society dinners. "He always asks, 'What is the budget?' And I always say, 'Do whatever you want,'" Hannah says. Their friends are still talking about a lobster bisque he made for a many-course dinner party several years ago. The guests begged Andrew to come and sit with them, but he kept his chefly distance in the kitchen. He maintains a professional attitude, making his parents look even better.

As a successful son with adoring parents, Andrew works at cultivating an independent demeanor. His left arm is covered in skin art ("I'm the black sheep, the Jew with the tattoos," he says), but a little of that rebellious zing had to have withered when his father got a matching (though small) turtle tattoo on his upper left arm. Andrew sometimes rides a vintage (1972) BMW motocycle, and he wears his brown hair spiky with artful touches of platinum.

But Andrew's "black sheep" line fools no one. When together, this family feels entirely whole.

Though Andrew has cooked many meals for his parents, this is his first Mother's Day dinner. He usually makes brunch, like sons all over the country, but this year he was bored by the thought of pancakes. "I can spread my wings with dinner," he says. "I can emphasize the season more."

Hannah and Jeff are classic foodies. "It's a huge passion for them," Andrew continues. "All of their travel focuses on food, on what the next meal is." Understandably, he tends to express his affection for his mom through cooking. "I love to make her happy. When I can make her proud and happy and put a smile on her face, I do. There's always a great connection when she comes into the kitchen to help out. We have a lot of our best conversations there."

For this meal he has planned a quintessential spring menu with a wide range of flavors, a feast that looks like more work than it is. His roasted leg of lamb makes an impressive if Flintstonian visual centerpiece; its shank bone sticks out like a mother-of-pearl handle. The easily sliced meat (great for next-day sandwiches) is sauced with piquant mint salsa verde, given a tangy depth by white anchovies. With the lamb, he serves creamy morel mushroom risotto speckled with plump green fava beans. Asparagus is roasted with thyme sprigs, charred quickly on a hot grill and finished with shaved Parmesan and baby arugula. Then comes a lovely salad of frisee, Belgian endive and parsley, punctuated with English peas, grilled lemon slices and roasted Marcona almonds, and a treasure of prosciutto underneath it all. For dessert, Andrew offers a wonderful trembly panna cotta with balsamic-streaked strawberries.

He lives in Mt. Washington with his striking and witty fiancee, Dragana Davidovic, who left her native Yugoslavia during the civil strife of 1994. She met Kirschner in 1999 when she was waitressing at Axe, so it's been a long courtship. Andrew gave her a ring last year, but no wedding date has been set. One gets the feeling that everyone is just waiting patiently for Andrew to seal the deal. "Dragana's already part of the family, but still, more grandkids would be nice," Hannah says. (Their older son Jason lives in Portland, Ore., and has a son.)

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