Chef Dakota Weiss recently popped in to the LA culinary scene with two new restaurants, Sweetfin Poké and Estrella, and a gourmet popcorn line. This bad-ass chef takes classic American dishes and puts her own unique spin on them, delivering comforting plates of goodness. Weiss was destined for artistry the moment she was born, when an astrologer announced that she would “wear a unique hat, in a creative and avant-garde manner.”
After attending the Scottsdale Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School) in Arizona, Weiss was soon hired at Santa Fe’s legendary Coyote Café, where she quickly rose to become the restaurant’s first female sous chef. She received her French training from world-class French chef Bruno Menard in Atlanta and was named “Best New Chef” in 2006 by Angeleno Magazine when helming the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton’s Marina Del Rey hotel and restaurant, Jer-ne.
Having competed on Top Chef Texas, Weiss recently joined a select group of top chefs at the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, where she talked to us about facing her fears, getting inked and how to impress a date.
“Keep it simple! Don’t try to go over the top and do too much…playing a little hard to get is a good thing. If you are handy in the kitchen, then make her favorite dish for her. Get a good wine and one (yes, just one) of her favorite flowers.”
You’ve been busy this year, opening up two restaurants! Do you think it’s more difficult for female chefs to be successful in a male-dominated industry?
Very busy indeed! (Slight grimace). Haha. I have to say that there is a rumor out there that it’s been difficult for women in the culinary field…however, in my opinion, I feel like it has actually given me a jump start in all aspects. I feel like being a wo-man chef has helped me work a little harder, move a little faster and think a little quicker. Because there are not as many of us, it helps us to stand out a bit more. I do feel like, in this day and age, our gender has very little to do with our level of skill, professionalism and dedication to our craft. It’s about the chef as an individual, how they work and their passion.
Earlier this year, you opened Sweetfin Poké to much acclaim, and your latest venture Estrella has a 70s bohemian/rock-n-roll vibe. What makes this “hippie home” rock?
This “hippie home” is going to have everything to do with the laid-back, yet progressive California lifestyle and vibe—from the food, to the décor, and to the music. As a native Californian, this project hit me very deeply and I can’t wait to share it with everyone, showing off all the wonderful products this state has to offer. We have a great group of elective souls (from managers, somms and creative directors) working on this restaurant and a lot of talent backing it up.
We’ve read that you first began studying international business in college. What made you change direction and pursue a culinary career?
It was the day my mom called me while I was in college and asked me to find my path and stop wasting her money on an education program I was not into. She knew I was much more of a creative type. I just could not get into the whole “9–5, sit-at-a-desk-all-day” type of work.
Tell us about your tattoos. It seems like more and more chefs are getting inked. We thought it might be a pre-requisite by now.
It’s so true! I’ve always been into them and had my first one done when I was 17 years old. They are a way of expressing ourselves. Also, it’s a form of art that has meaning in it. Although, not all tattoos need to “mean something” but most do tell a story.
What was the most surprising thing about competing on Bravo’s “Top Chef Texas”?
Hmmm, that’s a bit of a loaded question… Honesty I would have to say that for me it helped me get over a lot of “what if” fears. A lot of chefs will lay in bed at night and think/stress about all of those “what if” scenarios, and at that point there is nothing you can do about them but have a nightmare or two. Having being tossed into most of those unexpected and highly difficult challenges that Top Chef is known for forces you to get pass it! Suck it up and figure it out.
What was the inspiration behind your gourmet popcorn, Dakota’s POP Parlor?
The popcorn company happened very organically. I had someone approach me after a Valentine dinner I did and sent everyone home with a bag…and they asked me if I would want to sell it. It seemed nuts at first, but then I saw that it could actually take off, be a fun side project and allow me to run my own business. I have an absolute blast coming up with all of the different flavors.
What’s one unusual hobby or interest you have that most people don’t know about you?
An unusual interest…I’m obsessed with the Cello. I can’t play it but I have one. And I love to just stare at it. It makes me feel calm. I love listening to it. The deep sound it produces takes me to my happy place. I even have a tattoo of a Cello.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a young man who’d like to impress his date with a homemade meal?
Keep it simple! Don’t try to go over the top and do too much…playing a little hard to get is a good thing. If you are handy in the kitchen, then make her favorite dish for her. Get a good wine and one (yes, just one) of her favorite flowers. Now, if you are not handy in the kitchen then I would suggest having a private chef come to your house and keeping it super mellow and casual. Having a chef giving you both a hands-on cooking lesson can be fun. This shows her that you can admit when you are not good at certain things, but that you are willing to give it a shot!