Nobody had heard of Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis when they opened an Italian restaurant in an industrial corner of the Los Angeles Arts District back in 2012. Menashe had cooked in Italian kitchens, and Gergis had never even worked in a restaurant.
Six years later, the married couple has risen to culinary stardom. Their critically acclaimed restaurant, Bestia, was the first in a new wave of restaurants to open in the Arts District. Menashe and Gergis sat down with Press Play to discuss their success, what it was like to open a restaurant for the first time, and their new cookbook “Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of L.A.”
Menashe had worked with some of the best Italian chefs in Los Angeles, but he was still unknown. “I never made a name for myself until we opened Bestia,” he said.
Menashe credits their early success to the fact that people hadn’t heard of them. “People were excited to taste our food for the first time,” he said.
And Gergis, who ran the front-of-house and worked as the pastry chef, had only started baking two months prior to the restaurant’s opening.
“I wasn’t supposed to be the pastry chef,” said Gergis. But then, at an event, star-chef Nancy Silverton tasted some shortbread cookies that Gergis had made. It was there that Silverton convinced Gergis that she should be the pastry chef.
Since Gergis had zero experience working in a professional kitchen, she made the decision to focus on imperfection. Her pastries are often misshapen because she hand-rolls each pastry disc.
“It’s like wrapping a present for somebody,” said Gergis.
Opening the restaurant was difficult. For weeks, the couple worked until 4 a.m. and returned to work at 8 a.m.
“We didn’t think of the possibility of failure,” said Gergis. “When you have nothing,” she said, “and you have nothing to lose, you just give it everything.”
Listen to the whole interview to hear Gergis’s recipe for Mascarpone Rice Pudding.