Chef Phillip Frankland Lee is a red-blooded, meat-eating chef, who is all about the vegetables. He turns them into simple, yet sophisticated creations at his much buzzed about restaurant, The Gadarene Swine in Studio City, LA.
Chef Lee began his journey into the culinary world as a dishwasher, but quickly moved up the ranks through the kitchens of Quinn Hatfield, Stephan Richter, Alinea and L20. Since then, he’s competed and won several cooking competitions on Food Network and has even been named “Best Young Chef in America” by San Pellegrino.
A life-changing experience inspired Chef Lee to create a restaurant that only serves vegetables. His wife, Chef Margarita Lee, restricted him to a diet of vegetables, herbs and juices after doctors discovered a tumor in his ear. The idea of The Gadarene Swine is not just veganism, but a focus on the pure organic form of vegetables without added ingredients. This is quite a change for a man whose previous restaurant, Scratch|Bar, was known for serving all kinds of meaty parts. Both restaurants have received outstanding accolades and garnered much attention in recent years. This ambitious and inspirational chef is intent on taking over the culinary world with plans to open 100 world-class restaurants by the time he’s 50.
Congratulations on being named “Best Young Chef in America by San Pellegrino.” Wow, that’s quite a title. What’s next, conquering the world?
Well… I was one of 10 to be named, but that was still awesome! Conquering the world, absolutely! One restaurant at a time… We closed Scratch|Bar on July 15th and will be reopening in November. From there, it’s onward and upward. We’ve already secured the lease on my third restaurant and my ultimate goal is 100 world-class restaurants by age 50. Wish me luck!
How did you get your start in the culinary world?
I got my first chef’s knife for my third birthday. There is actually a video online of my father defending his birthday present to me and my mother saying, “Well…all he wants to do is cook!” I actually started as a dishwasher at my godmother’s catering company when I was 18 and quickly worked my way up the ranks. I became a sous chef for Stefan Richter at 21. That was seven years ago.
You’ve competed on Food Network and won Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen and Guy’s Grocery Games. Which competition did you like the best and why?
Definitely, Guy’s Grocery Games. No question. It was, by far, the most fun and the production staff did a great job of making us feel super comfortable. Sometimes on these TV shows, the producers aren’t necessarily focused on making sure that you are having a good time, to say the least.
We’ve read that the inspiration behind your latest restaurant, The Gadarene Swine, and its pure vegetable menu, was due to a health issue you were faced with at the time. How did that help you to recover?
My wife, who used to be a raw vegan, knows all about nutrition and Chinese herbs, so she put me on a super strict diet. Eight weeks on this diet and my tumor started shrinking. I did not end up having to get the surgery that they were planning. It ended up being much less invasive. And at that moment, something clicked and I thought, “Something happens between the time the food enters one hole and exits the other.” At that moment I felt I could no longer step over the trash. So I wanted to open a restaurant that showed people who eat meat that they can get by just fine without the butter and cream and maybe one guy out there will eat at The Gadarene Swine and fall in love with vegetables and not necessarily give up meat, but just start eating more balanced, and end up not getting colon cancer. If that ever were to happen, then all this hard work would be worth it.
Why the name, The Gadarene Swine? No pigs found here.
The Gadarene Swine is a Philosophical Fallacy from the early 1900s that speaks to living unconventionally, often time receiving shun for your habits and beliefs, while simultaneously changing the course of consciousness. How many times did our parent’s say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” Just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong. And most people would argue that if it’s different then it is wrong.
Previously, you were quite the carnivorous chef at Scratch|Bar. Are you still involved with that restaurant?
Absolutely! Scratch|Bar has been (and remains) my restaurant and we will be re-opening in November in a new location. I’m super excited as this new location will allow me to do some of the things that were in my original concept for Scratch|Bar, but that just wasn’t possible at the Beverly Hills location.
It seems that a spotlight is finally being shined on vegetables lately and they no longer are just a neglected side dish. Do you notice chefs elevating their game in this regard?
That’s really great. It makes me happy to see. I also think it says a lot more about a chef when you can do something jaw dropping with eggplant than just searing a piece of Kobe Ribeye Cap.
What’s a simple veggie dish a guy can make to impress his gal?
I would make a really nice, hearty salad. Go to the Farmers’ Market (and bring her with you!) Pick out some great greens, not just butter lettuce or kale; get some mustard frill or something else that you’ve never had before. Explore something new together. Pick four or five beautiful vegetables. Preferably something you both haven’t had before. Or perhaps something you love, but in a color or shape that you have never seen. Go home, wash everything, roast a few of the veggies in olive oil and sea salt, shave a few of the veggies, maybe even toss in some cous cous or something, and mix the whole thing with some EVOO, lemon juice and sea salt.
What’s one unusual hobby or interest you have that most people don’t know about you?
I don’t know that I have one. I pretty much ONLY work. I wake up, go to one of the restaurants, usually don’t eat lunch or dinner, then work until midnight or later, and grab some tacos on my way home. If I want to hit 100 restaurants in the next 22 years, I don’t really have time for hobbies. But this is the life I chose, and I love it! I wouldn’t trade it for anything!