What do Parmesan dumplings, ethically raised meats, and jazz have in common? You’ll find them all at Jessica Largey’s forthcoming restaurant, Simone, slated to open this fall and named for the versatile and tenacious crooner. Below, learn what you can expect on the menu and how the JBF Award winner is pushing herself more than ever before.
JBF: We hear that you’re involved in more than just the culinary side of this project. You’re also contributing to architectural planning, interior design, and more. What’s been the most surprising or unexpected thing you've learned?
JL: It’s been incredible to design every facet of the space. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about design patterns, relating ceilings to floors, and more. I also look at every old building now differently, analyzing the retrofitting and bricks. The most surprising thing is how we’ve been able to tie everything together, correlating the entire design with the food, the seats, the glassware, and the flooring. My partner, Bruno Bagbeni, and I share the philosophy of “intention" for both our guests and employees, as well as the goal of creating a timeless theme and aesthetic.
JBF: We read that the new restaurant is named after and loosely inspired by Nina Simone. Can you talk more about your admiration for her and how her inspiration expresses itself in the concept?
JL: I’ve been a fan of Nina since I was a child. I admire her musical evolution and her talents. Her range is so unique, like when she dives into a classical riff on the piano, but also sings soulful jazz melodies. That relates to my approach toward the food at the restaurant. My background is almost exclusively in high-end fine dining, yet I’m challenging myself to become more well-rounded as a chef and more open to a predominantly casual restaurant, all while still having a counter to do a tasting menu on a small scale. My goal is to remain relevant in both of those worlds. Nina was strong-willed—she put herself and her opinions out there. I also aspire to break the rules and create a spectrum of experiences for my guests. We also intend to play a lot of jazz in the restaurant. It’s such a wonderful rhythm to dine to.
JBF: Can you give us any insight into the menu, specific dishes, etc.?
JL: The menu will be very produce-focused and will also highlight sustainable seafood and ethically raised meats. This winter I did a guest residency in Chicago and got to work on some great dishes that I plan on featuring, such as Parmesan dumplings with peas, green garlic, and pistachio; and whole-roasted romanesco with anchovy, calamansi, and daikon. I’m spending the summer shopping at farmers' markets, recipe testing, and hosting Sunday dinner parties, where I’m developing the opening menu by cooking for friends and colleagues.
JBF: A lot of chefs have been relocating to LA recently. Why do you think professionals are drawn to that city?
JL: Los Angeles has a great established food community that has maintained its identity for the past 20 or so years. It’s truly set the tone for an uprising of chefs to come and make a statement. There are incredible buildings and spaces available here. I also think it has one of the most vibrant creative and artistic communities in all facets of art, including food. The produce is, in my opinion, the best in the country and thriving year round. I also started my career here, my family is here. I grew up here, figuratively and literally. I want to make my mark within the community and contribute to elevating the LA food scene on a national level.
JBF: Last question: what are a few memorable meals you’ve had since you moved back to Los Angeles?
JL: Rustic Canyon is always a show stopper. Incredibly fresh, delicate, and balanced food. I’ve already been multiple times! I ate at Providence recently, which was stunning. Michael Cimarusti's cuisine has evolved so beautifully over the last 11 years, and the restaurant is a true institution. One of the first nights I got back I had Korean barbecue with a good chef friend of mine, Ari Kohlender, who also just moved back from South Carolina. We worked together at Providence ten years ago and used to frequent Koreatown together. The food was amazing, but being back together here, in such a different time in our lives and careers, made it magical.