Don't Call Casey Lane An Empire Builder

He may be under 30, but Casey Lane has already established himself as one of LA's real culinary superstars with his work at The Tasting Kitchen just blocks from the beach in Venice, CA. After building it into one of the Westside's destination restaurants, Lane is now spreading his wings and opening up two new spots before the calendar year is up.

The Parish, his take on the English gastropub, opened downtown at the end of July and it's already one of the summer's hottest reservations. In the fall, Lane plans to open Itri, a pasta and rotisserie restaurant in the heart of the trendy Melrose district. With so much going on, it's amazing that the chef has any time to talk, but he graciously took a moment to fill us in on his rapid expansion.

So I want to talk to you about the burgeoning Casey Lane empire.

Oh boy.

How has it been going at The Parish?

It's been as good as it could possibly be so far — knock on wood. The opening's been really smooth. I had all of the key people cooking with me at the Tasting Kitchen for almost two and a half months, so they just got used to walking in and the menu being different and, like, we pay attention to cooking by technique, not by dish, so when they walk in and I hand them a completely new menu, they all at least know what I'm talking about before we start talking about it.

When do you plan on opening Itri?

I'm hoping kind of first week to mid-October.

I'm very excited about this rotisserie concept at Itri that I keep hearing about.

So am I! So am I! It'll be fun to have that come into fruition. I wanted to do something that was maybe a bit richer, a bit more traditional. It's a wood-fired rotisserie where we can still do all of our whole hog butchery and all of the curing and porchetta and game birds. And then the rotisserie octopus was just...

Right! You're doing rotisserie octopus!

Octopus is becoming kind of a big deal. It's been a big deal for cooks for the last eight years, but it's definitely getting a lot of press and I think everyone is realizing, like wow, this is one of those things that is as good as it's supposed to be. We confit ours in olive oil so that it gets a very rich, very succulent, tender texture to it and then you have to put char on it somehow, be it on the grill, be it in the pan, fried, whatever way you're going to go about it, and we have this rotisserie and we were all just kind of sitting there thinking like, what if we just tied the octopus onto the rotisserie and just let it roll over the flames and pick up all that smoke in a very slow, charring way? And it's something that we all got excited about.

What was the decision process of opening two restaurants at once?

It was the opportunity. We found the Angeli building [that houses Itri] and we were like, this is a great opportunity. We love the building, we think it has a lot of potential, we love the area, we love everything — so let's just go in and do this. It was a bit of opportunity matched by my ambition and belief that I could get this accomplished and that led to 17-hour days and no sleep and a lot of anxiety, but at the same time, I'm getting it all handled.

Does it feel a little bit like you're having twins four months apart?

I mean, not twins because they're so diff...okay, maybe if it was a boy and a girl twin because they're such different concepts, such different everything. Itri is going to be a lot of fun for me, though, because it's small. It's going to be the first small restaurant I've ever worked at, let alone opened.

Do you think your food is distinctly Angeleno?

I definitely couldn't say that at all because I'm not from California, let alone Los Angeles. What I try to do at The Parish is the most Angeleno that I could possibly be. I loved the fact that gastropubs are neighborhood drinking places where the food is just great. So when everyone began opening their doors and everyone, from what I've seen anyway, is literally just like Disneylanding a concept from London and putting it here, I feel more and more detached from any desire to do that whatsoever.

I want to give Los Angeles that spirit, so I wanted to take the drinking food that Los Angeles has become accustomed to. Poutines are on a good bit of menus here in town. Fried chicken is kind of a big deal. I wanted to please them with their neighborhood comfort drinking food. I'm not feeding people from London, you know what I mean? I'm feeding people with different palates. I wanted to give them what they want their neighborhood place to have. I definitely feel like that is as uniquely Angeleno.

Do you have plans to open more restaurants?

I mean, absolutely. You never know what life is going to throw at you in terms of opportunities to do different things, but this is where I wanted to build a foundation. I wanted to build a foundation in actually being a chef. There are so many people that get the title of chef and they don't even have a job in a restaurant or anything that has to do with the grassroots of where this industry came from and, honestly, where that term belonged.

So many of these people that are chefs don't even have a job. They're like freelance. I don't even know what to call them. But I wanted to grassroots it, and whatever happens from here happens from here. I'm going to take two years, though, after these three get open and really make sure I give them the same footing and same foundation that the Tasting Kitchen got in terms of making them systematic, making them a part of the neighborhoods that they're in, making them stable and making them very long-term operations. I have no interest in [running] these LA restaurants that open and close in five or six years. I want all of these [restaurants] to be a part of people's lives for a very, very long time. Not because I'm so amazing, but because they love them so much.

You've got a place in Venice, a place downtown, and you're about to have a place kind of mid-city. Would you say that you have an empire?

I don't know. I couldn't even qualify what makes an empire. I think that I have three restaurants that have all been opened by me. I don't think that I have an empire until Joe Bastianich says I have an empire.

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