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Why L.A. Chefs Are Happier, and Fondue As Food Trend: An Interview With 'Chef Hunter' Carrie McCully

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Carrie McCully (Photo via Food Network)
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What happens when a popular restaurant needs a new head chef? For some, the answer is to put in a call to Carrie McCully, a New York-based consultant who runs Force of Nature Media. McCully is a chef recruiter, who helps restaurant owners find the right person to put on the chef's jacket. Considering America's fascination with the restaurant biz, it's no surprise that what McCully does has become the focal point of a new Food Network show, "Chef Hunter," which premiered earlier this month. The first two episodes of "Chef Hunter" took place here in Los Angeles, and found McCully helping Wilshire and the Border Grill's Downtown location secure a new bearer for their respective top toques.

Though serious L.A. foodies would have been able to guess that Nyesha Arrington would get the job at Wilshire (the debut episode of Bravo's Top Chef Texas came before the debut of "Chef Hunter" and features competitor Arrington repping Wilshire on the culinary competition), the chance to take a look at the local dining scene from a new angle offers viewers a unique insight into the kitchen.

We recently had the chance to toss McCully a few questions about the show, and to find out what a looking-for-work chef's potential BFF thinks of Los Angeles' culinary scene.

LAist: Is Los Angeles a "food" city? Why or why not?
Carrie McCully: Los Angeles is definitely a food city and it’s special. L.A. has California legends, such as Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower and Thomas Keller influencing it, with the added spark of really great street food and loads of experimental chefs. Los Angeles has a definite rhythm to its food evolution and I love it!

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Is there such a thing as an "L.A. Chef"? Do restaurants in L.A. have needs or expectations for a chef with a unique set of abilities or personality?
Sure and you can see it at rock star status with Nancy Silverton. Los Angeles Chefs are probably happier than New York Chefs. They like to surf, skateboard and hang-out. They have the purest, freshest produce and proteins in the country.

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McCully, center, with Border Grill owners Susan Feniger, left, and Mary Sue Milliken (Photo via Carrie McCully/Facebook)
In the case of a restaurant like the Border Grill, the restaurant is well-established, and tied very publicly to two well-known chefs. Does that affect the kind of candidate you look for to fill the Executive Chef role there?
Mary Sue and Susan are legends. I could write a whole book on the experience of watching Susan in the kitchen. She is a Buddha of Zen professionalism and grace. They need a chef family member that has real heart and soul. I believe they found that quality from their choice on "Chef Hunter."

How much latitude will a chef there have with the menu?
A Chef should have full latitude, because when they are hired, they agreed with the owners on the menu concept.

How similar of a process do restaurants undergo as is depicted on Chef Hunter when they try to fill a vacant chef position?
You’ve got to watch and see. "Chef Hunter" doesn’t repeat itself. Every episode has its own DNA and I can promise you it will stay that way. Restaurants are a living organism and they have individual needs.

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Where do you like to dine in Los Angeles? What do you see as emerging food trends in L.A.?
I’m a big fan of my Chef friend’s kids making dinner! I frequent Waterloo and City, Akasha and Osteria Mozza. Food trends are trends, and I think in the coming months we will have more casserole dishes and Fondues. [I] Love a good Fondue!

"Chef Hunter" heads to other U.S. cities for the duration of its debut season. It airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.