When it comes to sustainable, farm-to-table restaurants in Venice, most people think of Gjelina. But over the last few years, an influx of available markets and farms in Los Angeles has opened up more of these like-minded establishments. Dudley Markey is one such restaurant, and Jesse Barber is one among those like-minded chefs. But Jesse isn’t new to the game – or Venice – and he’s bringing his own take on things.
While Jesse is a native Angelino, he temporarily transplanted to Oregon for culinary studies and later interned at Bouchon and The French Laundry. He couldn’t stay away long though, as his friend’s offer to help open The Tasting Kitchen in Venice paved the way for him to come back South. From here, he stayed close by, first opening his own Barnyard and now Dudley Market.
This only goes to show that it’s in Jesse’s blood to switch things up – a characteristic that you can readily see in how often his menus change throughout the seasons. The biggest reason for this is because “the season changes so often. One week carrots are good, and the next week they’re awful.” With this emphasis on using local, seasonal produce, Jesse’s cooking techniques adapt to making the most out of every dish. “Every time I cook a dish it’s different. Every time I sauté a piece of fish it’s different – maybe it’s more towards the belly or the tail, maybe I salted it slightly different.”
But of course, Jesse’s inclination for change happens outside of the kitchen, too. He’s constantly educating himself: “A lot of what I do is inspiration from dishes that I’ve eaten, places that I’ve worked, things I’ve read. I’m constantly eating out, reading books, searching the Internet, finding new techniques and being in conversation with people that I respect.” Whether it’s refining or manipulating techniques, Jesse finds that as long as the basics are established, there’s a lot of room to explore how to treat a dish with appropriate finesse.
On top of putting out great food, Jesse strives to create a memorable experience for his patrons. Here, food is a moment, and a connection between people. It’s not about the idea of having a perfect meal at a Michelin star restaurant; it’s more so the mix of people and going with the flow that defines the dining experience. “We’re not a fine dining restaurant, and I’m not trying to be the best in the world. I’m just trying to have fun.” Instead of striving for perfection, Jesse’s more concerned with having the freedom to create great food and allow people to have their own experience.
The more you talk with Jesse, the more you understand food truly does dictate his way of life. When asked what keeps him going throughout these 16 years of being in the industry, the answer comes easily because it’s never been in question: “I don’t ever actually think about that. I get up in the morning and I start thinking about eating and drinking and cooking. Then I go eat and drink and cook. I don’t know what else I’d do.”
So whether it’s shaved dehydrated carrots plated next to freshly caught mackerel paired with wine from a newly featured region, there’s always something new at Dudley Market. Future plans include ideas to open a big seafood spot on the boardwalk to offer something different from the fast food scene. Although that area may be more difficult to work in, Jesse isn’t fazed. “There’s some things you can control and there’s some things you can’t. It’s just about worrying about the right ones. All I should really care about is if the food’s good or not.” Well, if Dudley Market has shown anything to Venice, it’s that the food will most definitely be good.