Monthly Industry Insights
Hear from industry leaders their guilty pleasures, the oddest thing in their refrigerator, their inspirations and take on new trends. We've asked all of questions and have the answers for you here.
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December's Featured Interview: Lusy Gradzhyan, Owner & Chef, Lusy’s Mediterranean Cafe & Grill
Chef Lusy was recently crowned the Rapid Fire Champion at the recent Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo!
What made you want to become a chef?
From the time I was a little girl, it was always in my heart. We lived in difficult times in Armenia. Life wasn’t always easy but I saw how a table of food prepared with love could change a room full of people. And how when my grandmother would make something for a friend or neighbor and take it to their home, what a difference it made. You could see it in their eyes. As I grew up, people told me I had a gift but honestly I thought everyone could cook. Then by chance, we were able to buy a small restaurant. Our customers kept telling me how special they thought the food was so I learned at last this was my destiny.
If applicable, what was your favorite class in culinary school?
I never had the opportunity to go to a cooking school. My culinary education actually came from two places — one was my grandmother’s kitchen. We were very poor so we had to be resourceful. She taught me the importance of fresh ingredients and how they made even the simplest dishes delicious. She encouraged me to try everything. Some people laugh at me but the other place I learned from was The Food Network. The Food Network showed me what was possible and what great chefs had in common. I learned a lot from Food Network.
What is the newest trend you see emerging?
I can’t talk about the newest things but the emphasis on fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch is something that has transformed American cuisine. And it is still going on. You can see how this approach has influenced fast casual dining. Diners have become more informed and want restaurants and food services that can deliver fresh quality eating. Today we have healthier, smarter consumers and they expect more.
What’s the strangest thing we would find in your refrigerator?
I don’t know if it’s strange but it has a weird name. It called “eech” and many people see that word and pronounce it “each” or “ick” which isn’t very appetizing. But it’s a delicious blend of tomato, bulgur wheat, some crushed pepper and parlsey and seasonings and makes a great snack – warm or cold.
If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Anywhere in France. Their food is delicate and I would like to experience first hand in the fine restaurants and in the local places. I want to hug that food.
Is there one comfort food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
Well my son Harut and I love a good ribeye steak. To me there is a tenderness and a flavor that not even filet mignon can offer.
Which talent would you most like to have that you don't possess?
I love to sing but I’m horrible. But I sing anyway! My staff laughs but I like to sing and dance in my kitchen.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
That’s easy – Thanksgiving. Americans have this tradition and it has come to mean a lot to me to have gratitude on a special day. I prepare the turkey and all the dishes but with my own seasonings and style.
Who was your mentor as you were becoming a chef?
Bobby Flay inspired me because of his dedication and hard work – the way he started and built his career. I had the opportunity to meet him and he wrote me a special message that I have framed and hanging in my kitchen.
I admire Alice Waters both as a chef and a woman who owned her own business. She and my grandmother would have really liked each other because they both have a love of fresh, local ingredients.
If you could cook for and dine with anyone, who would that be?
Oh hands down - Wolfgang Puck. I was privileged to meet him at a special dinner and he took the time to really talk with me. Wolfgang was very encouraging and kind. And you always remember that. He reminded me that he was an immigrant too and as immigrants we face special challenges but we also bring wonderful resources and talents to this country. I would love to cook for him – just to be in the kitchen talking and sharing ideas while I was preparing food. It would be so much fun!
More about Lusy Gradzhyan:
Lusy Gradzhyan was born in Armenia in the centuries-old city of Gyumri. In 1988, a 6.8 earthquake hit the region and, with the family home devastated, Lusy’s widowed father Harut decided to take his children and immigrate to America. They left with a few personal belongings and the clothes on their backs.
However 21-year-old Lusy carried with her the distinct memories of her grandmother’s kitchen and the lessons her grandmother had taught her at the family’s stove.
The Gradzhyan family’s arrival in the United States was not unlike most immigrant experiences. Times were tough. There was no money and work was hard to come by. Lusy remembers arriving in New York and not being able to speak any English. The family made its way to California and settled in Los Angeles.
Lusy found work in Los Angeles’ jewelry district and earned a reputation as a hard worker. At home, she cooked for her family and friends and developed her own recipes. She had a gift with spices and a natural instinct for not only for food but also for presentation.
In 2006, an opportunity presented itself to lease a small restaurant space in Valley Glen. With no prior business or restaurant experience, Lusy and her husband Avo signed the lease and opened their doors. The first few years were difficult as the couple learned the realities of owning and operating a restaurant.
They remodeled and brought in new kitchen equipment. Next-door co-tenants helped Lusy with the work. The beauty salon two doors down loaned their hair dryers to dry and check paint samples. A local carpenter pitched in. Slowly the new place and Lusy’s dream of offering freshly-prepared, healthy Mediterranean food took shape.
There were no canned ingredients, no pre-made sauces, salad dressings or packaged foods. Her recipes came straight from Lusy’s grandmother with her own special touches. At Lusy’s insistence, everything was from scratch.
Word-of-mouth began to spread about the cooking that came out of their tiny space in the San Fernando Valley. The red shutter doors to Lusy’s kitchen swung back and forth with busy servers and delivery boys.
Food critics began coming and writing about their experiences. It began when Westways Magazine praised Lusy’s food in 2013. The magazine, with a circulation of 4 million readers, chose Lusy’s as one of their top five picks for delicious, affordable Los Angeles eating. The word was out.
The latest rave review came this year from nationally-known longtime food writer and Daily News restaurant critic Merrill Shindler. Yelp, the online rating guide for restaurants rates Lusy’s as among the top in Los Angeles for fresh Mediterranean cuisine.
Lusy began bottling the salad dressing she created because the demand was so great from patrons who wanted to take the unique taste home.
In 2012 the city of Los Angeles honored Lusy for her generous service to the community and local charities. In 2014 the state of California recognized Lusy as a Small Business Owner of the Year for her accomplishments and contributions to the community.
The food revolution for using fresh, locally grown ingredients continues to transform today’s fast casual restaurant business. Lusy’s timing proved to be just right for patrons wanting fresh, affordable Mediterranean with an emphasis on California healthy.
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