Alex Reznik didn’t venture into the restaurant business with the intention of going kosher. Five years ago, when he was leading the kitchen at Ivan Kane’s Café Was, a treyf restaurant in Hollywood, Reznik could also be seen on TV cooking up bacon cheeseburgers on Top Chef.
Today, kosher food is Reznik’s main focus. He runs Ditmas, a kosher restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles. And in less than six weeks, he plans to open up a second kosher eatery: Bedford Kitchen, in Flushing, Queens.
“I’ve only done kosher for a few years,” Reznik told me in an interview recently. “Kosher came to me.”
When Reznik was growing up, he lived in Brooklyn, on Ditmas Avenue—hence the name of his Los Angeles restaurant. Ditmas is on the corner of Bedford Street and Pico Boulevard, and his family lived on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn—hence the name of his new restaurant.
Reznik was raised Conservative and would go to shul “here and there” he said. His family kept kosher at home, but not necessarily when they ate out.
Food had always been a hobby for Reznik. “I always loved to cook,” he said. “I cooked at home. When I had guests I started doing these creative things. I’d make my own spaghetti.” Twelve years ago, food became his career, when he began culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas.
After Reznik finished, he got jobs in Vegas at Lutèce and Bally’s, before moving to L.A. A friend persuaded him to try out for Top Chef, and he ended up on the show, where he said he “became really good friends with some of the contestants.” He made it through 10 episodes of the reality-show competition’s 14-episode season, and although he wasn’t a finalist, he did make a big impression when he was involved in a “scandal” where he was accused of stealing a fellow contestant’s pea puree. (“Pea purée. That became the largest controversy on the show,” Reznik told Tablet at the time, noting that “of course I didn’t do it.”) Now, he noted succinctly: “Top Chef is definitely a big part of my life.”
Reznik’s move to kosher cooking came in 2011, when Laurent Masliah was opening La Seine, a kosher French and Asian fusion restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. He reached out to Reznik and asked if he wanted to be the chef there. “I said absolutely not,” Reznik said. “But after a while I relented. I didn’t understand kosher at first, but then I used a little creativity and the freshest ingredients and changed what people think about kosher.”
La Seine shuttered in 2012, and a little more than a year later, Reznik opened Ditmas. “After having my daughter, who is now 18 months old, I decided that I wanted something to pass down to her, like a legacy,” he said. “The restaurant had to be kosher. Kosher just felt right. My soul feels better when I cook kosher. Feeding Jewish people is always a mitzvah.”
Chef Aaron Anderson, who has known Reznik for a decade and worked alongside him at Café Was, told me: “What’s he’s doing for kosher and the Jewish community is a long time coming. … He thinks outside the box and is very good at innovating different systems in the kitchen as well as creating different dishes.”
Rob Eshman, editor in chief of The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and writer of its Foodaism blog, said that Ditmas stands out among kosher restaurants in Los Angeles. “Reznik cares about using good ingredients,” he told me. “He’s not consciously trying to do anything fancy. It’s casual. He goes beyond obviously the kosher traditional food and the standard in kosher restaurants, which has become steak and sushi. He’s trying to do something that’ll give people who keep kosher a real L.A. dining experience.”
The rotating menu at Bedford Kitchen will include some of the dishes found at Ditmas, like Reznik’s signature “dirty Russian potatoes,” which contain what he calls “mystery meat,” as well as cilantro, aioli, and sriracha; and his corned beef tongue, which is accompanied by a brioche, a hen egg, pomelo, and hot sauce. Like his Los Angeles restaurant, Bedford Kitchen will feature both a casual bar menu—think craft beer and sliders—and a more formal dinner menu.
Reznik said he’s going to serve steaks fired in a wood-brick oven, pâté in tin cups, beer-can chicken, sushi, ramen, fried chicken, matzoh ball soup with duck consommé, and corned beef croquettes. “It’s not Grandma’s old kosher restaurant, because we’re going to be doing fun stuff,” he said. “The menu is going to be based on what people are eating now, which is global flavors.”
Reznik said he went for the location in Flushing for a few reasons. One was that he saw a void to be filled in the local kosher market. “Manhattan has a lot of great restaurants, and Brooklyn has a lot great restaurants,” he said. “Queens is ready for it.”
As for bacon cheeseburgers and the other treyf dishes he used to concoct, Reznik has given it all up. “The restaurant got me closer to my Jewish roots,” he said. “Back then I wasn’t cooking kosher. I always cook kosher now.”
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Kylie Ora Lobell is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who’s been published in The Jewish Journal, Time Out New York & L.A., xoJane, Dell’s Tech Page One blog, and NewsCred.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who’s been published in The Jewish Journal, Time Out New York & LA, xoJane, Dell’s Tech Page One blog, and NewsCred.