Dakota was formerly chef at the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and the Sunset Tower’s Tower Bar on the Sunset Strip. She is most known around the city for being a contestant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 9. She credits her mother, suspense novelist Charmaine Coimbra, as an inspiration for her career and passion for food.
Scott and I arrived at the W Los Angeles Westwood on Hilgard Avenue and met Dakota in her kitchen where she was spending the day experimenting with new desserts. We went outside and took a seat at a table by the pool to do the interview.
What were you working on today?
Desserts. A salted caramel ganache tart with a blackberry jam and a key lime meringue. That’s one of them. Then I’m doing a lemon basil ricotta benet with a chocolate black pepper sauce and a balsamic strawberry sauce. And then… A vanilla meyer lemon camacada.
You’ve lived all over the country… how did you end up back in Los Angeles?
Most recently I came from Philadelphia where my ex-husband got a job working at the Ritz Carlton and I worked for Steven Starr there. It’s a really beautiful city with a lot going on. The food scene is pretty good, but I was born and raised in California so it’s kind of home to me. I was doing everything possible to make my way back here. Fortunately, I got a divorce and I was like. “See ya I’m out of here. I’m going back home.”
I had been trying to move here for years until I actually got out here. I have lived in many many places and this is the only place I can ever call home… Ever since we moved away when I was in sixth grade, I’ve just been like, “How do I get back to California? How do I get back to California?”
Why did you choose to live Downtown?
My boyfriend and I were dating for a while, and he lived in Sante Fe. He’s a photographer, so he was doing a lot of work out there with movies but he lived here for 16 years and was trying to get back here as well. We were kind of making that leap… Are we going to move in together? What’s going on? What’s the next step in our relationship?
I was like, “Well if you’re going to move out to L.A., it’s going to be kind of newish for you because a lot of things change in a couple years.” I said, “Let’s just kind of shock both our systems.” I’ve always lived on the West Side… he’s always lived in Hollywood or Beverely Hills. I said, “Let’s go Downtown. Why not?”
You hear more and more about it.. the restaurants, the scene, the arts… He’s like, “No way in hell! I’m not going there. That’s crazy.”
Since he works from home as a photographer, he needs a studio space, and I talked him into it. “You know you can find some really good space for your equipment and do good shoots there.” I searched for 3 months, looked at probably 200 lofts, and finally found THE one. I took pictures and we fell in love with it.
How long have you lived Downtown?
Well, we’ve only lived there since October. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I feel so comfortable there. Everytime we leave Downtown I’m like “Get me back home. I want to go back Downtown!” They’ve done so much down there.
The community is really small but everybody knows everybody. We’ve got 2 dogs and it’s really dog friendly everywhere you go. People are really very nice. We walk down the street like “hey hey” but we don’t know anybody. It’s pretty cool deal. We like it.
How does Downtown Los Angeles compare to other places you’ve live around the country?
Well, it’s funny.. Living in Philly, we were used to living in that “cement”. You get in the city and it’s all buildings. You don’t really see a lot of sky or mountains. I actually really really enoyed it. So when I moved back to California from there, I was in Santa Monica, I had a great ocean view, and I kind of missed that hustle and bustle. Living Downtown, back in that busy atmosphere, is great. I absolutely love it. It keeps you going… keeps you on your toes.
Where does a professional chef do her personal grocery shopping?
I’d say for the most part, we get pretty much everything from Ralph’s. Granted, this is if I cook at home. Honestly, since we moved in, I’ve cooked at home maybe three times. When I’m home, we go out to eat or we order in. If and when I go grocery shopping to cook, it’s Ralph’s for the basic stuff and Whole Foods for the more specialty stuff. I’m not big in to Trader Joe’s, it’s never been my thing, but my boyfriend swears by it. And I like Gelson’s.
He’s the photographer, you’re the chef.. Do you always pick where you eat and what you order?
He is slowly becoming a foodie. I’m twisting his arm to try new things because he’s kind of a bachelor at heart. He makes something, which I actualy include a dish on the menu for him, called Gallin’s Waffle Panini. He would take two Eggos and put them in the toaster, then put ham and cheese and eat it like a sandwich. I’m like “That’s a brilliant idea!” so I kind of classed it up a little bit. Now it’s this massive thing– two Belgium waffles, ham, gruyere, onions, mustard, and then 3 fried eggs on top with truffle salt. It’s so good.
He’s slowly starting to get into the finer things about food. Usually we’ll pick together but I’m more of the pusher. “Let’s go here. This place is happening.” Most the time I’ll do all the ordering just because if I order it, he eats it. If he doesn’t know what it is and he loves it, then we’ve got a winner, but if tell him what he’s eating, half the time he wont eat it… I’ve gotten him to eat some pretty unusual things by being like, “Just taste it. Tell me what you think.” And then I’m like “You just ate veal stomach!” He’s like “Ooh, it was good.” I’m like “Yeah, it was!”
Where do you two like to eat out?
Our favorite, favorite, favorite new spot right is Baco Mercat. It just opened… kind of small plates. The variety of the menu is really fun, which is where I got him to eat the veal stomach. We just ate at the Spice Table not too long ago. Really phenomenal! We had grazed pig tail, which was a little harder for me to disguise what it was because it was like this mazzive coiled pig tail. Of all places, LA Café off of Spring street. They are open 24 hours a day and they deliver 24 hours a day. They make the best Caesar salad I’ve ever had.
My favorite is the Lazy Ox.
Baco Mercat is the same chef, Josef Centeno. The chef at The Spice Table, Bryant Ng… he just won best new chef yesterday.
Do you have a favorite sushi spot?
Yeah there’s one place in Santa Monica, it’s just off the 3rd Street Promenade, it’s called Saki House. I love Saki, it’s probably one of my favorite things. I could drink more Saki than I could drink water if I was allowed to. They’ve got a great Saki list. The sushi isn’t the best quality I’ve ever had, as far as the way they prepare it, but it’s pretty tasty and pretty affordable. I have to say my favorite really good sushi place is in Brentwood called Katsuya. I eat there like once a month. They’re opening up everywhere. We used to live right up the street so we’d walk down there. They’ve got a great Happy Hour. On Mondays, they have half off any Saki you want… It’s an awesome deal. Then at night they turn their Dragon Room into a little dance club, so you go in and boogie down. It’s not super “meat market” so it’s pretty fun.
I don’t eat sushi too much, just because I’m actually allergic to fish. I can eat shell fish, tuna, shark… heartier fish.
Do you cook fish dishes?
Do other people tell you they’re amazing?
It tends to be my stronger point. I can cook fish easier than I can cook meat, as far as pairing stuff up with it. And I’ll still taste it because you have to.
I saw you do private events?
Live cooking classes… We take 8 people every month. It’s pretty hands-on but we don’t have them too often because of liability reasons. I teach them to cook and they get all the recipes. I also get these cute little aprons that say things like “Whisk Master, Knife Ninja.” Silly little names. Then we go down into the private dining room and we eat everything that they make. It’s a lot of fun. We sold out the first one right away, which is next Wednesday. It’s actually a group. This guy owns Asylum Films. He’s bringing his clents and friends. It’s kind of a work slash let’s have fun event. It’s the first one.”
How much do you know about real estate?
Absolutely nothing. It’s funny, a girl was emailing me the other day. We have a French Bulldog and she has a French Bulldog so we were trying to set up a French Bulldog play date. She’s like, “Oh I’m just about to move Downtown. My place is in escrow.” I’m like, “Escrow? Say what?”
I’ve always rented, so buying a place and the whole “real estate thing”… I know nothing about it.
Is buying a home something you plan on doing in the future?
It would be nice, but I feel like we’re kind of gypsies. If we do, I think we’re going to stay Downtown. It’s such a great place.
We ask this last question to everyone we interview… What do you think is going to happen with real estate in the next year?
Oh I’d like to say prices go down so people like me can afford to buy a house, especially in California, but I have no idea. It seems like it’s in a holding pattern, the economy in general… but prices go down? I don’t know.
Lucky for Dakota Weiss, there are real estate experts like our brokers at CAPropertyFinder.com who are here to help. And lucky for us, there are chefs like Dakota Weiss in Los Angeles who help make this city so wonderful. Dakota is a perfect example of someone living the L.A. Lifestyle.
Look forward to future interviews about the L.A. Lifestyle. If you’re in the market to buy or sell a home, or you know someone who you think we should interview, contact us today at 1-800-287-1808.
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