MEET: Jeffrey Stuppler, Owner of Bergamot Cafe in Santa Monica, CA

I work in Santa Monica, California which is simply beautiful and gorgeous. One of the best parts about working in the neighborhood that I do is the close proximity to Bergamot Station, a huge art gallery complex and cultural center located on eight acres in the heart of Santa Monica. And tucked inside Bergamot Station is Bergamot Cafe, a busy and bustling eatery that has a super dedicated following including my co-workers and myself. We eat there at least twice a week, if not more. Jeffrey Stuppler, the owner, is responsible for churning out yummy specials like the Shrimp Louis Salad or Wednesday’s Mac N Cheese. But most of all, I’m wowed by Jeffrey’s amazing customer service and warm friendliness, something that I find many eateries lack. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Jeffrey, who was so sweet to do this interview.

Hi Jeffrey! Bergamot Cafe is one of my most favorite places to have lunch…how did you get into the food/restaurant business? I worked in the food service biz throughout high school and college. I Had fun learning everything from busing tables to frying chimichangas to flipping pizzas. One year out of college a family friend, who was an amazing self-taught chef and had a loyal following in Santa Monica, asked me to help him open and run Bergamot Cafe. I bought him out five years later. A lot of his recipes are still a big part of our menu.

What’s a typical day of work for you? I get in around 7:30am, make my Gaucho (House espresso drink) and start organizing the days catering schedule and finalize the days specials before the staff arrives. The early morning hours are also spent setting up and monitoring the promotions and marketing campaigns for the day/week and checking with my back of house and off-site kitchens to make sure they have everything they need for the days activity. I’ll usually run a couple of errands if needed.  My office is conveniently at Bergamot, so I always plan to be there during the pre-lunch and lunch rushes to lend a hand if needed. You’ll often see me wiping down tables during those busier times. After 2pm I generally plan meetings with vendors, managers or my partners over at Nook Bistro. I usually try to wrap things up by 4pm and head home by 5pm.

Where did you grow up? What were some of your favorite childhood dishes? Your least favorite? I grew up in L.A., not in a very food-centric family, but we traveled a lot, so I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines early in life. Favorite dishes growing up included My mom’s Chicken Divan (Very 70’s, but still delicious), Anything Piccata,  Carney’s Chili Burgers,  My dad’s banana pancakes.  Least favorites were spinach and chopped liver.

If you could go on a culinary tour through any one country, which country would it be and why? Wow, that’s tough! All things considered, I’d have to pick France. I really love French food for it richness and complexity. Additionally, I am always trying to broaden my knowledge of wine. Couple that with France’s amazing landscapes and Inn’s doting the countrysides, and I’d be very agreeable to such a tour. Mexico takes a very close second, by the way.

Let’s pretend you have the luxury of hiring ANY one chef from any restaurant or any food show to be your private chef…who would that be and why? My first choice would be Mario Batali, but on second thought, he’d probably keep me up to the wee hours every night handily drinking me under the table. My second pick would be Rick Bayless, winner of Top Chef Masters this year. I marvel at traditional Mexican cuisine and eat quite a bit of it. He is the hands-down master of regional Mexican cuisine, in America, and proved himself to have true depth in other areas during the course of the Top Chef competitions. Additionally, he seems to be a nice, unpretentious, down to earth guy as well, unlike that Chiarello guy.

Do you cook much at home? If so, what cookbooks and recipes do you consider your favorites? If you don’t cook much at home, and dine out, then what are some of your favorite restaurants in LA and their dishes? I cook once or twice a week at home. My quick reference cookbooks are How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, The Gourmet Cookbook, and The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.  From time to time I’ll refer to James McNair, Jamie Oliver, Ina Garten. Currently, I am perfecting a Turkey Meatball recipe for my 1 1/2 year old daughter. The secret is milk-soaked bread rather than bread crumbs. Favorite restaurants in L.A. include: Houston’s for French Dip, Sunin Lebanese Cafe for Kebab & Falafel, Shima on Abbot Kinney for Sashimi and Tofu, Mr. Cecils for BBQ, Jar for Ribeye, Nook Bistro for Mac N Cheese & Caesar (Yes, shameless plug, but seriously, one of the best), Osteria Mozza for their grilled octopus anipasti.

There is something about the salads at Bergamot that I can never replicate nor find anywhere else. What’s the secret to an awesome salad? Bold Dressings made with simple ingredients. Freshest cut vegetables. An awesome, dedicated, salad cook that has been making the same salads and dressings 305 days a year for 11 years.

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