Behind the Counter with Sandy Gendel, Head Chef and Owner of Pace

What do you get when you blend fresh local produce with a 70’s-inspired underground music burrow… then put it in the hands of a classically-trained chef with a heart of gold? You get Pace (pronounced the Italian way: “PAH-che”), nestled in the heart of Laurel Canyon.

Not only does the Pace crowd come for great food — they come for the people. Head Chef & Owner Sandy Gendel knew that his space had a unique energy that captured the nostalgia of the Canyon’s musical past. This mellow vibe instantly appealed to the community when it opened 18 years ago, and it has remained local favorite ever since.

Step inside Pace and you’ll see a curated collection of local artwork hung on the walls. You’ll hear music artfully curated by General Manager Joshua Blum. You’ll smell the fresh flavors of that day’s farmers market haul, handpicked by Gendel, roasting over cedar planks or being tossed with handmade fettuccine — using the eggs from Gendel’s chickens, of course. You’ll feel warmed by the intimate ambience. You’ll feel a sense of sanctuary.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandy and Josh at Pace, in their element. I instantly felt like family. Read on and I assure you will, too.

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How did you get introduced to the restaurant world?

SANDY: Growing up I worked in restaurants, when I wasn’t working in the candy factory. When I was with my dad, we were always eating out. Whenever we went to restaurants, it was always better than the movie that we were going to see afterwards. He was really into it, always looking in the kitchen, loved the energy.

JOSH: The most memorable moment [when I realized I wanted to go into the restaurant industry] is when Sandy made me steak for free. It was so freaking good… he really does enjoy feeding people. And it’s not about getting paid for it, for him it’s about taking care of people and giving someone a good experience. A generous spirit, generous heart, generous soul. It made me, in turn, want to be generous with my time where he was involved as well. I would help him out, he would help me out, and before I knew it, I was working in the restaurant business.

How did you find the space for Pace?

SANDY: I was leasing a room up on Wonderland, here in the Canyon. It reminded me of Northern California, that cozy feeling, removed from the city. I like the city… but I like the view of it. It’s a unique spot.

Why choose Pace as the name?

SANDY: I just thought it was fitting for the Canyon, and the 60s. Laurel Canyon is known for the music that came out of here during the 60s and the 70s. There was a huge peace movement going on there…We’re creating kind of a refuge, an escape from all that where people can just AHHHHH exhale.

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What do your guests love most about Pace?

JOSH: They go very well together, the food and the vibe…Speaks to people feeling like they are getting out of town, getting away from Los Angeles and that hustle and bustle. People from New York come in and say that this is the one restaurant that they could fine that they could embrace.

JOSH: The way that this place has developed and the vibe and the soul that it has taken on has been just a very natural progression with Sandy’s beliefs, core beliefs in food and hospitality…One of my favorite things that people say about this place is that it’s definitely the only place in town that you can find a thousand-dollar bottle of wine and a box of crayons. It’s luxury, but it’s a funky kind of luxury. I don’t know…

SANDY: No, that was right, that’s perfect. Sounds good to me!

Talk to us about your food philosophy. What do you love about sourcing from farmer’s markets?

SANDY: It’s great knowing the people that [grow your food] because it makes it that much more fun to work with the product. You’re just so proud of what they are doing and how they are doing it. It adds a lot to the experience and to the flavors.

Are any of the Pace dishes inspired by chefs you’ve worked with?

SANDY: A huge cooking influence in my life was a gentleman by the name of Wilfred Sang. He was a family friend and knew my father since he was 19. He had a bar in San Francisco called The Rickshaw back in the late 60s. It was the spot.

JOSH: Everyone would go there, the Beatles would go there. He told Ringo Starr to stop playing the drums because it was too late one time.

SANDY: There were two staples that he did. One was the salmon on the cedar plank, no one was doing it back then, but he was. And then these pork ribs. So those two dishes are two of our most popular dishes [at Pace]. He taught me how to do those recipes growing up.

What makes the restaurant unique?

SANDY: The setting is really unique. There are not many Canyon restaurants in LA.

JOSH: The things I love about the restaurant are mostly the quality of the food and also the vibe. Just being in here, especially at night when the lights are down and the candles are going and the music is on and the smell of garlic is in the air.

What your favorite thing about being a chef?

SANDY: The hours…no just kidding. You’re feeding people, man. What better thing is there to do? It’s all about that. Some of the best times are around food and wine. That’s probably my favorite thing. And the energy — it’s like a party at your house every night.

JOSH: The problem is: it’s a party at your house every night.

SANDY: [laughs] The problem is, it’s a party at your house every night, exactly!

Pace is heavily influenced in artwork and ambience by the musicians of the 60’s and 70’s who spent time in Laurel Canyon. How do you see music and food influencing each other?

JOSH: I think it’s super important. I did research on this as I was creating a playlist for the restaurant, about what goes well with food. A lot of people say it’s soft background music. I disagree. I think, especially for a place like this, you want to turn people onto new music, things they haven’t heard as much. Things with a soul. Also, this is such a great date spot. I try to put things together that is a little seductive and a little sexy, without being too overt…because we are eating here.

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Pace is located in the heart of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, California. Their Italian-influenced menu celebrates locally sourced, seasonal ingredients made with love. Learn more by visiting their website.

Originally published at www.chownow.com on January 31, 2017.