To sit and talk with Chef Neal Fraser about his culinary gem — the lauded Redbird, which opened in 2014 to much acclaim — is to understand Los Angeles through his cooking. Set inside the city’s first Archdiocese Catholic cathedral, Redbird is literally carved from LA history, occupying the former rectory of Vibiana and deriving its namesake from that red little bird, the cardinal. “I think the main reason we sold our other restaurants and moved down here was because we finally found something that was bigger than ourselves,” says Fraser who opened Redbird with wife and partner, Amy Knoll Fraser.
And big it is. The six year construction project was designed by the couple’s friend Robert Weimer and features two bustling dining rooms, a 24 person bar, private dining rooms and serves as the in-house caterer for Vibiana. “It’s about Amy and myself. It’s about what we thought Los Angeles needed, which was an adult restaurant that was not pretentious, that was not the loudest restaurant in the world,” explains Chef Neal. And while the final result is as opulent as you’d imagine a restaurant in a former cathedral to be, the menu is what drives Redbird.
Fraser’s approach to food is heavily in influenced by the unique variety of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods and cuisine. Born in Hollywood and raised in the Hollywood Hills, he recalls trips to the Eastside with his mother, eating hard shell tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and being “mesmerized” by his first bite of sushi in Chinatown. He would go on to hone his skills working his way through several kitchens (including Thomas Keller’s Checker’s Restaurant on Grand Avenue) before being afforded the opportunity to venture on his own. What followed would be a steady stream of successful restaurants, Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America titles, and critical praise. These experiences and references are why Neal Fraser’s cooking is so quintessentially Los Angeles. It is sought out, aspirational, and original.
“What I fought against was picking something specific. That’s not really me,” explains Fraser on not sticking to one type of cuisine. A look at the menu illustrates this perfectly – duck with wild rice and cherries, rabbit wings, chicken pot pie, Australian rack of lamb, and a 32oz porterhouse for two. There is even a “White Trash” salad made of little gems, avocado, and pancetta. It’s with little wonder why Redbird has been embraced by a city of cultures. At any given time, the clientele is a mix of power suits, city of officials, and locals. The restaurant also accommodates up to 150 walk-ins daily. To Fraser, however, the formula is simple: “I hope we’re serving great food. We are focusing on something that is becoming a lost art which is hospitality and service. You’re being taken care of.”