Originally from upstate New York, Chris Keyser was cooking in Philadelphia for four years before a trip to Los Angeles convinced him he needed to move out West. In L.A., he was chef de cuisine at AR Cucina where he says he “learned how Californians like to eat.” After a brief tune-up in Italy, where he met a chef in the tiny village of Ponte San Pietro who, he says, was “cooking the best food in the world,” Keyser returned to the Southland truly inspired. He now helms the kitchen at Union as executive chef following the departure of Bruce Kalman.
Bruce Kalman is a high-profile TV chef. What’s it like filling the shoes of a “star”?
You know, I honestly never really thought about it. I think Bruce is a great guy. He’s a great chef. I think I’m a great chef. What I want to bring to the table is exactly what you see us doing here—sourcing local and cooking great food. … Good food is about stories. I’m trying to tell a story about California cooking.
How would you describe your style in the kitchen?
(Chuckles) That would be a good question to ask the cooks! Really I just want to excite people. I want people to be excited by the idea of cooking good food. And I like to have some fun too. It’s hard work, but it’s really only hard if you are not having fun.
Do you have a favorite dish to make or eat?
We have brunch coming soon and I’m super excited about this dish we are building. We started playing around with the idea of puff pastry. We already have a great pastry program here but I think we are upping the level for the brunch. We get whole pigs and whole lambs and build the menu around the whole animals we get. It’s about sustainability. We have this great brunch ragù that we’ve been working on, sort of a hybrid between a ragù and pot pie. Then we put a big piece of puff pastry and fried egg on it. I don’t know what it’s called yet, but I’m pretty excited about it.
Being a chef is notoriously stressful. What do you do to unwind?
Believe it or not, I don’t really unwind. I love stress. I kind of thrive under it. But what I really do like to do is take a walk from Venice to Santa Monica. I love that boardwalk. I used to live in that area and still try to make it down there on my day off for sunset in Santa Monica. I walk from Venice to Santa Monica, then I walk back, and that’s how I de-stress. But I’m thinking about life and food, and I’m thinking about the future.
Other than Union, what is your favorite restaurant in town?
I really like Bone Kettle. I think I’ve gone there more than any place in town.