For Chef David LeFevre, it’s all about community and sharing good food with friends and family. No wonder his South Bay restaurant, Manhattan Beach Post, is known as a “social house,” with an adventurous, global menu that attracts locals and foodies alike. Interested in cooking since he was a boy, LeFevre almost took a detour into engineering but decided to leave his senior year of college and enroll at the Culinary Institute of America instead. Soon he landed an internship at the legendary Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, eventually becoming sous chef. After 15 years of working in top restaurants throughout France, New York, Spain (Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli) and around the globe, LeFevre earned a Michelin star of his own as executive chef for Water Grill in Los Angeles. A few years later, he opened his own neighborhood gem, Manhattan Beach Post and, more recently, Fishing With Dynamite. We asked him about starting out, world cuisine and how to cook your way into a woman’s heart.
I’m not going to beat around the bush. If you prepare a really good meal for a woman, I mean, they’re really into that.
What’s difference between your two restaurants?
First of all, they’re both artisanal and handcrafted, with soulful food and design. But they’re very, very different. Fishing With Dynamite is a seafood restaurant with oysters and lobster and an oyster bar. It’s very tiny with only 32 seats. Manhattan Beach Post is larger, with about 110 seats, and is more about the different dishes I’ve experienced in my travels around the world. I’ve brought these different ethnicities and food to one spot, giving it the same attention that I do in fine dining, but in a much more casual setting.
You got your start in your mother’s kitchen. Was that by choice?
Well, I think when you have a single mom you end up doing some things by choice and some things out of necessity—everybody having to pitch in. I started out with sweeping the floor and setting the table, then moved up to serving the soup and helping her render the bacon for chowder. Later, it evolved into a love of eating and not wanting to wait for somebody else to cook for me. But my mother was a wonderful cook, she really was.
You’ve traveled all over the world. Has a particular country influenced your cooking the most?
Southeast Asia made a really big impact on me. Everything’s extremely flavorful, bright and fresh, with tons of herbs and chilies that made a big impact on my palette. I also worked in Spain and England and many places where you pick up a little bit from every culture. When I went to a country or a region, I’d always look for the best food that came out of that region, that I liked the most. And I found that you can be really playful with that and people really enjoy eating it.
Do you have any favorite dishes from your travels?
I remember having a papaya salad that was so flavorful and hot and spicy. I wanted to eat more of it because of the incredible flavor and the heat was making me shake. I love the food in that region, it’s so bright and flavorful.
For the record, Lefevre doesn’t always fish with dynamite…
What dishes do you recommend for tailgating?
I’m from Wisconsin, so there’s got to be some sort of bratwurst, and I like doing them with pretzel rolls, which have great texture and softness. I add a bit of juniper berry to some house-made sauerkraut and spicy mustard. You can actually doctor up one that’s already been bought or make your own mustard, it’s not that hard.
Do you have any favorite comfort foods?
I have a sweet tooth and really enjoy ice cream, whether it’s Cherry Garcia or something like that from the store. At the restaurant, I like butter pecan or mascarpone.
If cooking is the way to a man’s heart, do you think the opposite is true?
I would definitely say, “yes.” I think both men and women are enamored of someone who can make flavorful, tasty food. And women, I’m not going to beat around the bush. If you prepare a really good meal for a woman, I mean, they’re really into that.
Is there a simple dish that a guy can make to impress his date if he doesn’t have too much experience?
He should know how to grill a steak and roast a chicken. If you just add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and fresh herbs, it can be incredible and simple. Next time maybe you add some capers or olives and experiment. I like to grill a nice rib-eye at home and let it rest properly. I use a simple compound butter with it and grill some asparagus. Again, it’s simple but good.
Any other tips?
When you’re with a woman and you’re cooking for a woman, you want to pay attention to the woman, not just the kitchen.