Behind The Apron With Wes Whitsell

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If you’re anything like us, then you would probably never pass up the opportunity to experience the cooking of a notable chef first-hand. Born and raised in Texas, we caught up with L.A. local, Wes Whitsell, to see him in action and find out what he’s been up to lately. We were well fed and have to admit that we’re currently still craving the dish Wes created for us. Read on to see what the man behind the apron had to say about his career, style, future plans, and more.
“I’d say I’m as passionate about what I do as anyone I’ve ever met. I’m also extremely creative. I tend to think outside of the box.”
How did you get started as a chef and what do you love most about working in the food industry?
Where do I begin. I would say the day I met Chef Travis Lett, was the biggest step in me becoming a chef. I never knew it was actually an option until he paved the way for me to see and actualize. I love watching people eat and enjoying themselves. I love enlightening people with food and dining experiences.
When it comes to crafting a signature dish, where do you typically draw inspiration from?
Vegetables and layering dishes with bright flavors that began months ago from fermentation, preservation, and curing.
How does life in Los Angeles differ than life in your home state, Texas?
They’re nothing alike. There’s actually weather in Texas. Everything is so spread out in Texas, you know, cause it’s all bigger there. The only water is from lakes, so all your seafood is imported from the coasts. Except for catfish. Hunting is a way of life there. People are more considerate in Texas. You’ve got it all in L.A. so there’s always stimulus. In Texas, you’ve got to get creative sometimes. I think Texans invented drinking games. There are TVs in every restaurant and always some sport on.
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Wes is wearing: Performance Crew, 110 Skinny Jean
Is there a childhood dish that you still enjoy to this day?
Deer burgers from the grill with homegrown tomatoes and hand-churned ice cream for dessert. As a kid, I was a maniac baseball player, so I was the one who had to churn the ice on that pitching arm!
We had the opportunity to taste your mouth-watering smoked salmon toast. What makes this a go-to dish?
Cause it’s delicious, easy, and you can eat it at any time of the day.
What are some of your tips for making this dish? 
I like a thin seed bread for the toast. Smear on some spread of choice. I like cream cheese. Layer with anything you want. I like salty, acidic and spicy things: pickles, capers, smoked or pickled fish, sardines, anchovies...all those things they give you at those Jewish delis. Just put it on toast and add a ton of herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice. Go crazy! 
How have your southern roots influenced your cooking style?
How has it not influenced me? It’s in everything I do. In every dish. I had homegrown produce all around me growing up. Then when I got to California, I honed in on that with all of the amazing crops and farms around Southern California. California brought it all together and made me realize how important "locally grown" is.
As you recently departed from L.A.’s Manuela to pursue other opportunities, can you share what’s next for you?
I’ve always wanted to be a figure skater. Just kidding. I’ll be opening the new Soho House in Amsterdam. I’m taking my talents to Europe. I’m excited to be working in another country, a super progressive city with great art, surrounded by incredible seafood. Amsterdam has always been a rad place. It’s like a big village with forward-thinkers. I plan on moving the food scene along, giving it more great restaurants. Of course, you’ll have to be a member to enjoy the House.  
Many chefs and food enthusiasts have released cookbooks. Is this something you’ve considered doing in the future?
No doubt. If I ever stay at a place long enough to actually write one, it will happen. I’ve got a few stories to tell.
Tell us about your personal style and how denim fits into your wardrobe?  
My personal style is pretty subdued. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. It all has to fit right. The jeans have to form to my body with comfort, the shirt has to fit right and make me feel masculine. I love a good comfortable worn-in pair of boots or Italian leather shoes. I hate shopping, but I love clothes. I love well-made clothes. Clothes that will get worn for many years. I always give away clothes. I get tired of everything, except those comfy jeans. It all starts with the jeans.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Get to know your local farmers. Draw inspiration from them.  Go to farmers markets. Keep it simple and cook every dish as if it were for your grandmother.
Lastly, in what way do you personally feel lucky?
I’ve been afforded many amazing opportunities in my life. I’ve been able to travel the world, meet incredibly talented people and work with them. I have an amazing family that loves me dearly. I always have options. I feel like I’m always being offered projects. I’m very fortunate for all of this, and damn lucky. 
Keep up with Wes on Instagram: @chef_wes_ 
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