Chefs at Home: Larry McGuire
by David Ansel
When conjuring a mental image of a chef’s home kitchen, one might envision small pots of fresh herbs sunbathing on a windowsill, a pegboard rack lined with naughty pans facing a wall or a magnetic knife strip stocked with varied shapes, sizes and patinas of blade. A peek in the refrigerator might reveal a cornucopia of fresh produce and proteins, rare condiments, preserved lemons, homemade Worcestershire, perhaps a bit of hazelnut confiture picked up on a recent research trip to the south of France.
But upon entering the home kitchen of Larry McGuire—the boy genius behind monumentally successful Lambert’s and Perla’s restaurants—none of these things are present. Rather, one is confronted with an austere sort of Dwell-magazine-meets-Travis-Heights sense of low-fidelity minimalism—no hint of any recent activity; no pots, no pans; the refrigerator is empty save for some fizzy water and butter. In fact, the most commanding element of the kitchen—the open shelving that lines the entire north wall, where any reasonable human being would place some dishware, maybe a small sampling of cookbooks or even a few tchotchkes—cradles only numerous, neatly stacked ranks of manila accordion files.
“Those are my end-of-month financial statements,” McGuire says proudly when asked if the files are full of recipes.
It takes a bit of background to understand why a chef’s home would be quite so… foodless. First, McGuire, at 28, is quite properly a bachelor, yet without the usual pitiable gastronomic detritus of bachelorhood: the coffee grinds on the floor, the forlorn take-out containers in the fridge, the bag of limp carrots solitary-confined to the crisper. Why? McGuire simply doesn’t eat at home.
“I wake up and go to Jo’s for coffee,” he says. “Then there’s usually eggs going on at one of the restaurants. I’m in the restaurant all day, and then, since my friends are chefs, I eat out at a great restaurant every night… Parkside, Uchi, Vespaio.”
What might sound like an extravagant lifestyle is really, in a sense, just work. McGuire has graduated from the ranks of the struggling chef to the echelon of restaurateur/creator—one who travels to New York and Los Angeles just to eat and stay current; one who religiously consumes cookbooks and The New York Times’ food section. His immersion into restaurant culture—both locally and nationally—is part and parcel of his career.
“A lot of people ask me,” McGuire says with a genuinely humble pause, “‘How do you do things that people… like so much?’ My answer is that I just grew up here; I am the customer. I see what holes there are in the offerings here.”
He also credits much of his success to what he refers to as the Lambert aesthetic—a distinct mix of comfort and smart design that is the hallmark of Lou and Liz Lambert’s hospitality projects. “Everything I’ve done is their design; their aesthetic. Working with Lambert’s, doing Steak Night at the [hotel] San Jose and having contact with this whole up-and-coming creative crowd and seeing South Congress really evolve was a lucky break for me.”
Breaks aside, McGuire worked hard beforehand to acquire his business degree from the University of Texas while pulling night shifts on the line at the old Lambert’s. From both experiences, he was able to craft the business plans and investor packages for the new Lambert’s, Perla’s and his two current projects (which are?). Now, firmly ensconced on the other side, McGuire’s bootstrap, dues-paying days may be over.
“I started cooking around town when I was 16, and I’m 28 now, so holidays and weekends for that big chunk of my early life are gone,” he says. “I have weekends off for the first time in ten years.”
To fill some of this new free time, McGuire’s has infrequently hosted small outdoor gatherings at his home, around the oversized grill that once served as the centerpiece of so many of those Steak Nights at the San Jose. Guests are usually chefs and their hangers-on, and the sausages were, of course, ground, seasoned and encased at one of McGuire’s professional kitchens.
Still though, the image of the financial statements lining the walls of his home kitchen seems most telling. At the end of the day it’s sill the food service business, after all, and McGuire is as proud of those spreadsheets as he is his bouillabaisse (I like the word “bouillabaisse,” but don’t you think we should name some kind of sausage to align with the previous paragraph?). Truth be told, the spreadsheets may even hold more promise as they describe a near future where McGuire can reliably take weekends, holidays and nights off; where he can find a girl, settle down… maybe even cook a meal inside.