Q&A: Chef Ray Garcia’s asterid illuminates LA cultural evolution with culinary arts
Ray Garcia dons an apron over his chef’s whites and stands in front of the main dining space in his restaurant, asterid. The alumnus’s newest dining venture opened in March 2022 at the base of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. (Megan Cai/Assistant Photo editor)
141 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Nov. 4, 2022 3:20 p.m.
Ray Garcia is blending Los Angeles culinary culture into a delectable medley.
The UCLA alumnus opened his fourth restaurant, asterid, in March. Located on the first floor of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, the restaurant space features ambient lighting, a wrap-around outdoor patio and a window-filled lounge and bar area. The venture marks a departure from Garcia’s previous forays into Mexican fare and offers patrons a fresh take on American cuisine. Featuring curated brunch, dinner and drink menus, asterid serves sustainably sourced dishes and a LA-first approach to dining.
Garcia spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Dannela Lagrimas about his process in developing asterid and its menu, his gastronomical influences and his journey from UCLA to the greater culinary world.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Bruin: You mentioned that you were raised in LA. How does that influence your approach with asterid, as opposed to your previous projects?
Ray Garcia: I was born and raised in LA – Cypress Park on the northeast side — and went to school throughout different areas of LA from elementary all the way through high school. For college, I found myself on the Westside, and there was such a path of diversity throughout all of that. When I got to UCLA, it really exploded, and I got to see different types of cultures and cuisines through friends that I met and connections that I made there. That really informed my understanding and excitement for things that are new.
DB: asterid’s website mentions that traditions of the LA culinary scene were important. What specifically did you want to incorporate in the menu?
RG: With asterid, it’s about treating ingredients as its focus. The word “asterid” itself calls out the largest of edible flowering group of plants – a lot of the nightshade peppers, herbs and things like that that we eat. Even though we’re not cooking off of that list, it really is just showcasing LA and California in ingredient and technique.
DB: You attended UCLA and graduated with intentions of becoming a lawyer. What inspired you to pursue culinary arts instead, and how did your journey at UCLA affect that decision?
RG: I actually wanted to go into the FBI and a field in federal law enforcement, so the plan was to go to law school. I did an internship in D.C. during my junior year (and) met enough unhappy lawyers to tell me to hit the pause button and wait, so I deferred enrollment into law school and decided to take some time off.
Cooking was just a hobby of mine that I used, and when I got my first apartment, I started to first have to feed myself and play around with new ideas. My roommate at the time was a chef, and so I started modeling some of his behaviors and ingredients and taught myself to cook during that period. I took some cooking classes, and from there I just jumped into cooking and didn’t really look back at going to law school.
DB: asterid’s cuisine is described as modern American. What inspired you to explore American food, especially after your previous projects – which were more heavily inspired by Mexican cuisine? Did that present any unique challenges?
RG: I don’t think there’s any unique challenges because the idea of modern America and America is changing. It’s developing, it’s evolving and so is the cuisine. It’s not just apple pie and burgers or things that people associate with American food. It’s taking influences from all around the world, and I think especially in LA, it goes a little deeper into what “American” food is.
DB: asterid is unique in its location within the Walt Disney Concert Hall because it attracts visitors from all walks of life. Were you conscious of that while developing the restaurant, and how has the setting within the hall influenced your creative or culinary choices?
RG: We are at the base of a beautiful Frank Gehry-designed building, and it’s attached to the concert hall. There’s a certain amount of artistic approach to food, (and) in general, that was a bit heightened when you see that the building is like a more lovely plate that you’re plating onto. That’s really just how we approach it. It doesn’t impact the ingredients or that kind of approach to what we do, but still being conscious of the plate that we’re putting it on, so to speak.
DB: Do you see yourself continuing to pursue modern American cuisine in the future, or branching out to different pastures?
RG: I don’t see myself cooking any one type of food in particular. I’m a very curious person, and that translates into my cooking. So I really just look at an ingredient or a season or an area of a city and cook what makes sense to me.
Email Lagrimas at [email protected] or tweet @dannelawrites.