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Meet 3 Chefs Who Help Define Pasadena’s Restaurant Scene

December 24, 2014

The Pasadena Star-News highlights Chef Bruce Kalman as a tastemaker in Pasadena. Read about Kalman’s journey from musician to world renowned chef in the full article after the jump. We love our rock ‘n roll chef!
 

Meet 3 Chefs Who Help Define Pasadena’s Restaurant Scene

POSTED: 12/17/14, 3:31 PM PST
 
Is it possible to know where you are just from the plate of food on the table? For many here in Southern California, dining is a destination. Food writer Merrill Shindler gives us a glimpse of the chefs who have helped define Pasadena dining.
 
CHEF BRUCE KALMAN
Union Restaurant
37 E. Union St., Pasadena
626-795-5841; http://unionpasadena.com
 
If there’s a rock ’n’ roll chef in Pasadena, it’s Bruce Kalman.
 
He’s a larger-than-life figure who looks like a chef from a century ago, with his imposing girth, stained apron, eccentric facial hair and madcap grin. He really appears to have stepped out of a New Yorker cartoon (I imagine about a chef, a knife and a diner who isn’t sure about the offalish parts for which Kalman has such a passion).
 
Kalman is the son of a northern New Jersey music teacher and started playing guitar when he was 7 years old, pounding away on a battered Sears acoustic. By the time he was in his teens, Kalman was in a band with his brother (the drummer), opening for Meatloaf. (How perfect is that?) His mother famously warned her sons that they had strayed into the world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, telling them: “You may only do the third!”
 
Then Kalman landed his first culinary job, tossing pizzas at a local pie shop, where he found a passion that equaled — and perhaps even surpassed — his love of music. He began cooking in kitchens in Chicago, where he became sous chef at Paul Bartolotta’s Spiaggia; and in New York, where he was chef tournant at David Burke’s Park Avenue Café. He moved on to Okno, Green Dolphin Street and Coco Pazzo in Chicago, Il Piatto in Santa Fe, and Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix.
 
He came to Los Angeles to cook at The Misfit in Santa Monica, where the owner described him as “a pitbull with a spatula!” Kalman then moved to The Churchill in West Hollywood before heading to Pasadena for a restaurant of his own, the much-praised, endlessly quirky Union.
 
Kalman is also the founder of a pickle company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co., where the motto is “vine to jar.” The pickles rock.
 
 
CHEF PERRY POLLACI
The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse
The Langham Huntington Hotel, 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena
626-585-6410; www.roycela.com
 
Chef Perry Pollaci was born to be in the kitchen. This native New Yorker’s grandfather was a chef who cooked at the White House for President Jimmy Carter. Pollaci’s parents owned restaurants in the New York area, where Perry washed dishes before really being allowed to deal with pots, pans and knives. Restaurant life was in his blood.
 
In 1998, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., landing an externship at Chef Michael Mina’s Aqua in San Francisco.
 
He followed up with stints in New York at major names like Bouley, Lotus and Town before, in the great tradition, heading for Paris and Madrid to internationalize his cooking.
 
Pollaci opted in 2009 to move to Los Angeles, where he worked with the remarkable Chef Walter Manzke at Church and State in the born-again Arts District, followed by a job as sous chef at Patina’s Kendall’s Brasserie, and chef de cuisine of The Walt Disney Concert Hall.
 
In 2011, he found his way to Pasadena, as executive sous at what was The Royce at The Langham Huntington Hotel. Now, as chef de cuisine at The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse, he has introduced such concepts as an interactive Market Brunch on Sundays, with food stations in the restaurant’s kitchen. He’s also a chef who encourages diners to watch him work — there’s an eight-seat chef’s table behind a glass wall, where diners can watch Chef Pollaci’s every move.
 
That’s quite a long way from those dishes he washed on Long Island.
 
 
CHEF EDUARDO RUIZ
Picnik
168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
626-793-8008; http://picnikpasadena.com
 
For those who have eaten at Chef Eduardo Ruiz’s restaurant in Bell, known as Corazon y Miel, Picnik comes as a bit of a surprise.
 
His menu in Bell runs to dishes like wild boar chilaquiles with roasted carrot crema, lomo hash with a poached egg and wasabi, a dry rubbed pork shoulder with smoked duck gravy. At Picnik, by comparison, you’ll find sausages and hamburgers served with craft beer. But what sausages and hamburgers they are!
 
At Picnik, one sausage is called “Mexican Firing Squad,” another is “Too Hot to Trot” and then there are the “dirty fries,” including Peruvian street fries with sliced sausage and chimichurri sauce. You can have quite a picnic at Picnik.
 
Chef Ruiz’s heritage is Mexican and Salvadoran, with a fair amount of American thrown in (he was born and raised in the United States). His style is Pan-Latino, and a lot more.
 
But for Ruiz, labels are boundaries that he doesn’t enjoy. He says what he cooks is, “just our thing.”
 
He cooked at Animal over on Fairfax — easily one of the edgiest restaurants in Los Angeles — and a harbinger of the meat dishes he clearly loves so much.
 
Ruiz says his greatest culinary inspirations are his mother and his grandmother, though it’s a fair bet that they never served hot dogs like the ones he cranks out at Picnik in Pasadena.