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R.J. Cutler cooks inside and out

The filmmaker redesigned his kitchen and installed an outdoor kitchen and dining area. It's the perfect location for a dinner gathering and/or pizza party.

September 05, 2009|Debra Prinzing

Welcome to the prelaunch celebration for "The September Issue," director R.J. Cutler's documentary feature about fashion high priestess Anna Wintour and her creation of Vogue magazine's most important issue of the year. But unlike the film's gala preview at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this is not a red-carpet affair.

Instead, Cutler and his girlfriend, Jane Cha, have gathered a group of friends a few days prior for an intimate, relaxed evening of oven-fired pizzas and savory grilled vegetables, all in Cutler's new outdoor dining room set under carnival lights and the stars.

Youthful and redheaded, with a trim beard and a mischievous smile, Cutler is the type of guy who prefers to entertain at his Hollywood Hills residence rather than dine out.

"There is a lot of party-giving here," says the producer-director, whose latest film opens in Los Angeles on Friday. "I'm passionate about cooking, but it wasn't until I moved into this house that I started focusing on it."

With flutes of pink Champagne, Cutler welcomes his guests -- Lucinda Cowell and Ron Michaelson, whose design firm Concept Arts created the theatrical posters for "The September Issue," and MGM lawyer Michael Moore and his friend Karen Thorland, a litigation partner at Loeb & Loeb. Writer and former "Without a Trace" producer Ed Redlich and his wife, Sony Pictures television producer Sarah Timberman, arrive with bottles of Aubert Chardonnay, a pick from their wine cellar that Redlich insists is "the best white wine in California."

Cutler encourages them all to stroll the garden paths or settle into wicker chairs to watch the pizza-making production. The conversation naturally turns to the host's soon-to-be-released film, and with some gentle prodding, he shares a few observations of its protagonist, editor Wintour, whom he clearly admires but describes as "sphinx-like, mysterious and apparently impenetrable."

When Cutler recently remodeled the house's kitchen, he added a second kitchen outside, complete with wood-fired pizza oven. Today he's cooking side-by-side with his friend Alberto Lazzarino, who recently closed Melograno in Hollywood to work as a private chef. The men garnish rounds of dough with fresh, simple ingredients and slide them into the oven, which burns at 600 degrees. Minutes later, out come rustic pizzas topped with caramelized sweet onions and homemade sausages; fresh arugula, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella; and mixed seafood, white sauce and olives. Lazzarino seasons them with fresh herbs clipped from a potted culinary garden nearby.

Cutler says that he imagined "a big conceptual approach" when it came to restoring the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival home, which he bought in 2005.

To help him pull it off, he enlisted interior designer Lory Johansson, who runs the Los Angeles design studio Just Joh with her architect-husband, Mats Johansson, both guests tonight along with their daughter, Erika.

"The idea was to have a home that resonates with its moment -- the Spanish Revival movement that it owes its architecture to -- and to meld it with more Craftsman touches," Cutler says.


To the self-described "observational filmmaker," the 4,200-square-foot residence on three-quarters of an acre needed a dramatic narrative, indoors and out. "I saw enormous potential here," he says. "I loved that the home was huge, but it felt to me as though the spaces could be defined to create intimacy."

The purchase gave Cutler a lot more house for his money than if he had bought on the Westside, and it moved him closer to the offices of Actual Reality Pictures, his production company on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

At first, the director merely wanted Johansson's help restoring vintage light fixtures and designing replicas to fit the architecture. The project quickly morphed into six months of cosmetic renovations, including stripping a thick coat of red paint from the wood-and-tile staircase and deep-cleaning the two-story living room's original ceiling beams.

"It was all about restoration and recapturing a home that was beaten up -- but beautiful underneath," Cutler says.

The original white-cabinet-and-vinyl-tile kitchen required a major upgrade. Johansson borrowed space from an unused butler's pantry to extend the kitchen's footprint, but at 180 square feet, the finished room is still relatively compact. Clever space planning was enough to satisfy Cutler's culinary needs.

"It was really important to R.J. that the kitchen be the heart of what he was doing here at the house, because he cooks so much," Johansson says, adding that it's "definitely a guy's kitchen." The espresso-stained white oak flooring, dark cabinets and stainless-steel appliances are decidedly masculine. The main source of color -- green glazed vintage subway tiles -- appears on a backsplash above the stove. Johansson found the tiles at Olde Good Things, an architectural salvage store in downtown L.A. that said they were from a New York City electrical transfer station.

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