Photo by Kimberly Genevieve.
A husband-and-wife duo partner with her restaurateur brother to offer their take on farm-to-table California cuisine.
by JAMES S. KIM
Diverse cultures and mountains of fresh, local produce shape California’s rich and much-envied food scene. And that’s the very image Michael and Carol Teich are looking to spread with The Wallace, their new culinary venture that is receiving much early acclaim. Located in the heart of the trendy downtown district of Culver City, The Wallace joins a growing list of Southern California restaurants that support sustainable and local food.
“The Wallace’s menu is ‘Californian’ because we emphasize local products,” Michael told KoreAm Journal. “To me, California has such diversity when it comes to food. So many immigrants have come here and brought their cuisine with them. All those [cuisines] influenced me growing up here, and they find their way into my food.”
His wife is one of those immigrants. As a teenager, Carol immigrated to Los Angeles from Brazil with her family. She met Michael in the kitchen at a Ritz-Carlton restaurant, where Michael was already a sous chef.
“He wasn’t even one of the executive chefs; he was one of the younger sous chefs,” recalled Carol. “I was so scared. But whenever you had a question or needed help, he was the most helpful and most willing to teach you. He was always really good at that.”
Fast forward eight years, and they are now married with a 4-year-old son and, of course, their culinary offspring. The Teichs operate as a one-two punch, with Carol operating the front of the house as general manager, while Michael works in the kitchen and oversees the menu. Carol’s older brother, Marcelo Ahn, who ran the restaurant that preceded The Wallace at the Culver City location, deals with the finances as CEO, effectively making The Wallace a family business.
“I think anyone that works in this industry always has the dream of doing their own thing,” said Michael, who spent four years as a minor league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.“I was lucky enough to have a brother-in-law who already had a location, which happened to be in Culver City. I thought there was a great opportunity to do something here that I didn’t see anyone else really doing.”
It is a vision that Carol’s brother is excited to be a part of. The emphasis on fresh produce reminds him of his childhood home.
“There’s no need to use any canned products [in Brazil],” said Ahn. “Produce, fruits, anything you want, it’s available anywhere. In the U.S., it’s a bit different. You have to go to the farmers’ market. All these American chain restaurants, you can tell right away the products they use have a ton of preservatives. But when you eat food here, you feel good about yourself.”
Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can all enjoy the variety of shareable plates. Chef Michael’s menu follows the seasons to take advantage of the local available produce, while the meats are also acquired from local sources, and the seafood has all been designated safe and sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“I feel strongly it’s just the right thing to do and the way everyone, not just chefs, should live their lives,” Michael said. “It’s about respecting the environment and supporting the people who are doing things the right way.”
The best ingredients make the best food, and Michael makes sure to highlight each one. His meticulous nature (Ahn calls his brother-in-law a perfectionist) shines through in the presentation of every dish, from brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert.
On the dinner menu, a few starters include the smoked trout, made with cucumber, radish, celery, yogurt and almonds, and the roasted butternut squash, which is prepared with curried yogurt, quinoa, cranberry and pumpkin seeds. The entrees are just as extensive: The customer-favorite grilled cauliflower, prepared with creamy parmesan almond bread crumb and rosemary, and the Portuguese-style salted cod fritters, which are personal favorites of Carol and Marcelo.
Koreans in particular will be intrigued by the bindaetteok-inspired shrimp and chickpea pancake, which substitutes the traditional nokdu, or mung bean, with chickpeas and adds harissa aioli for a nice kick. The short rib ravioli will also definitely bust a few taste buds in a delightful fusion of Korean barbecue and house-made pasta.
To top it all off, beverage director Holly Zack oversees the assortment of very pretty and delicious cocktails and locally brewed beer on tap, while Carol, who also happens to be a certified sommelier, takes care of the wine list.
Diners have three choices of where to sit, from the bar and the large communal tables for some impromptu socializing, to the dining tables in the back where the open kitchen is in full view. During the day, the large windows and skylights offer plenty of natural lighting and reveal the original artwork lining the walls, while at night, the old-fashioned light bulbs provide a warm, intimate glow.
The name of the restaurant is inspired by a long-running inside joke involving Mel Gibson, apparently the most famous patron to visit Ahn’s previous restaurant. After an extensive and frustrating search for a name, the family decided to let it come naturally. One liquor-induced night, the men started talking about William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter portrayed in the 1995 movie Braveheart, and then The Wallace was born. Now, a few months in from their grand opening, Michael, Carol and Marcelo are enjoying seeing the family business become a fixture in the community.
“[This] is the environment we wanted to create—everyone is welcome, it’s not pretentious,” said Carol. “It is a family.”
This article was published in the March 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).