Michael Teich’s life was at a standstill after his baseball career ended nearly two decades ago.
Once a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Teich eventually decided to pursue his lifelong passion for cooking.
Today, he is partner and chef at The Wallace — one of Los Angeles’ hottest new restaurants.
His wife Carol is the general manager and wine director at the Italian-themed, locally sourced restaurant, which serves up dishes including roasted scallops with butternut squash and charred lamb shoulder.
We chatted with Teich about his transition from pitcher to chef and what modern diners expect from restaurants.
Business Insider: How did you first become interested in cooking?
Michael Teich: After my baseball career ended I got a job utilising my degree, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I always enjoyed cooking, so a friend took me to a culinary school on a whim. I enrolled that day, started a week later, and a week after that I quit my job and started working in a restaurant. I’ve been cooking ever since.
BI: What are the biggest influences on The Wallace’s menu?
MT: The biggest influences on the menu are the seasons. What’s available in the market is what is on our menu. Also the relationships we have built over the years with local ranches, fisherman and farms influences what we use. Plus we only serve seafood that has been approved on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s safe and sustainable list. And we only work with people who practice sustainability and take the same time and care to produce their products as we do in preparing them.
BI: What kind of foods are trending in the restaurant industry right now?
MT: People are very interested in where their food comes from so anything that is local, organic and sustainable is big with consumers. Also people are becoming more adventurous and willing to try different things, the secondary cuts. The nose-to-tail type of cooking has really gained a lot of momentum, as well as delicious vegetarian and vegan offerings.
BI: Which dishes are some of the most popular? Why do you think they are popular?
MT: Our vegetables are very popular because they are of the moment. I think they are popular because we really try to highlight the vegetable. People are surprised how great a carrot in-season tastes, or how savory and satisfying broccoli can be. It’s due to finding the best ingredients from farmers who care about what they are producing. Our ravioli has been a really big customer favourite as well. People can taste the care when something is made thoughtfully by hand. Our raw seafood dishes have also been well received. Again, they are local and sustainable fish where we highlight the fish. With all our dishes our goal is to highlight the ingredient, showcase it. Customers appreciate when they order carrots and they get carrots, not a lot of “chef-y” tricks.
BI: How have customers’ values changed over the past 10 years in the restaurant industry?
MT: I think customers are much more savvy. There is so much information now, food is everywhere. The knowledge they have when they come into dine is so high, you have to deliver. I think customers used to just got out to eat, now they are judging you. Everyone is on Yelp, Twitter, Facebook giving their opinions in real time. I think another change is service, I suppose it has always been that way, but guests really want to feel taken care of, made to feel they matter and that you are happy to have them. That’s something we really focus on, making our guests feel like our guests and welcoming them into our home.
BI: What is the most surprising thing about opening a restaurant?
MT: So far for us it has been the sense of community. We really wanted to open up a neighbourhood restaurant. To have people come in and tell us how excited they have been for us to open and how they watched day after day as we were building out feels really good. When they come in and we give them great service and delicious food and drink it comes full circle, and we have a customer for life. It’s really something special to be part of something bigger than just yourself and to see it grow is very rewarding. Before you open you are just thinking about opening, you don’t really think about the impact you are making on everything around you, but when you feel it and see it just makes you work that much harder to succeed.
Teich also shared some photos of the restaurant and dishes.
The interior has a modern feel:
Here are some carrots and parsnips with a honey-soy glaze:
Here are shishito peppers with edamame:
Roasted scallops with butternut squash, chard, and prosciutto:
And charred lamb shoulder with farro risotto:
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