From Lela’s and the Playboy Mansion to Little Old La Verne: Executive Chef Ricky Brewer Eats it Up

July 12, 2009
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The Corner Butcher Shop Executive Chef Ricky Brewer

The Corner Butcher Shop Executive Chef Ricky Brewer

Executive Chef Ricky Brewer went from a kitchen nightmare to a kitchen fairy tale.

In 2007, Brewer was the executive chef for Lela’s Restaurant in the heart of the Pomona Arts Colony. While the upscale restaurant featured an ambitious, eclectic menu, it lacked the financing, discipline and downtown foot traffic to survive, despite the best efforts of British chef, television personality and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay to make over the restaurant for his popular Kitchen Nightmares television series on the Fox network.

Despite the pressure of a nationwide television audience and bucking heads and egos with Ramsay, Brewer was praised by Ramsay at the end of the high-tension reality show for his willingness to accept criticism and to grow as a chef.

“It was a real good experience,” Brewer said, who had to leap from the fire to frying pan and endure the risk of being seared by Ramsay known for his confrontational, tell-it-like is style. “I didn’t know what to expect. They had the cameras rolling in the kitchen all the time. At first, I was a little reserved, but at some point, you realize, you got to get on with it and start cooking, and slowly you forget about the cameras.”

Brewer, a quick study, had to go from making fine dining items, like rack of lamb, sword fish and filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce, to Pomona salads and Lela burgers that Ramsay insisted be part of the new more moderately priced menu.

“In one week, I had to completely work with a new menu,” Brewer said. “That’s one of the things about being a chef. You have to pick up things really quick, how can I get this out in 10 to 12 minutes?”

Brothers John and Will Fuelling must have been watching because they hired Brewer as their executive chef for The Corner Butcher Shop, which they opened on January 17, 2008.

In addition to preparing all the salads, soups and other daily fare at the The Corner Butcher Shop, Brewer is best known for preparing meals for customers to eat right in the shop. They don’t have to wait to take it home before they can try it.

“Here, I’ve got my New Yorks, T-bones, Porterhouses, I’ve got Chilean sea bass, salmon,” Brewer said, proudly pointing to the clear refrigerated cases of fresh fish and prime cuts of beef. “Somebody comes in , and says, ‘I like the salmon, I want to have salmon,’ I’ll take it right out of the case, cut a piece off, and I’ll say, ‘How would you like it? Poached, broiled, Cajun-style with a dry sherry cognac cream sauce?’”

Customers can also select their favorite vegetables from the produce section to accompany their main course, perhaps some artichokes, asparagus or summer squash, which Brewer will grill for them. While you’re waiting, he might also prepare some andouille skewers or shrimp cocktail with green pepper jelly.

The price for all this personal service and attention is an additional $2.

Chef Ricky and Tom getting ready for the lunch crowd.

Chef Ricky and Tom getting ready for the lunch crowd.

Once a chef to the stars and the Westside’s beautiful people, Brewer is just as happy being the personal executive chef for anyone who walks through the doors of The Corner Butcher Shop in La Verne.

After completing his professional culinary education at the Cordon Bleu School in Pasadena, Brewer spent his externship at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills. Seven girls were living at Hef’s House at the time. It was also the time of Playboy’s 50th anniversary, so the kitchen was always busy preparing for parties and the parade of eye candy passing through the mansion.

“The one thing I liked about Playboy was everything in the kitchen was done from scratch,” Brewer said.

Brewer arrived every morning at six to prepare muffins and fresh soups.

“The executive chef saw that I didn’t really like to bake, so he made me bake every day — orange and cranberry muffins, raspberry muffins, blueberry muffins. But I pretty much did everything. We did the chickens with the feet still on. We would have to fabricate those and break those down. It was just a great experience.”

Brewer also honed his culinary craft working in the Staples Center’s Grand Reserve in the Arena Club.

“On Laker nights, you would turn 1,100 covers (orders),” Brewer recalled. “It was very fast-paced.”

It was also a bit of an eye-opener.

“One night the chef asked me to make some rosemary demi glaze, so I started looking for the actual veal stock to make it with. She said, ‘No, here’s the jar. Just add water and rosemary.’ That was a shock to me because I had never used anything like that before. I had to adjust from Playboy, where everything was made from scratch, to restaurant-style, where you use a lot of shortcuts.”

When basketball season ended, Brewer rotated to Dodger Stadium’s upscale restaurant for premium ticket holders. Both Staples and Dodger Stadium contract with Levy Restaurants, a Chicago-based foodservices company offering restaurant-quality dining at sports and entertainment facilities, making it easy for Brewer to have steady employment.

It was while Brewer was checking on the status of his student loans at the Cordon Bleu School in Pasadena that he saw the posting for The Corner Butcher Shop position. About 10 days later, the Fuelling brothers offered Brewer their executive chef position.

The call had come just in time because Brewer was offered a executive chef job with Bubba Gump’s in Long Beach. That position had appealed to him because Bubba Gump was a well established eatery.

“I said I would never ever go to work for a small restaurant again,” Brewer recalled. “I wanted to go corporate because I just didn’t want the problems and the hassles of not getting paid.”

However, when he learned that he would simply be expediting plates (making sure the orders get out to the right tables), he chose The Corner Butcher Shop. “In corporate restaurants, the executive and sous chefs don’t get very much involved with the cooking; they pretty much just oversee everything.”

At The Corner Butcher Shop, Brewer is now able to be his creative best. He makes all his sauces and marinades from scratch and even makes his own tortilla chips. “We bring nothing in,” Brewer said.

“I love where I’m at,” Brewer said. “John and Will are great guys to work with. They have great business minds. I’m just hoping to build something special here. If people keep coming through the doors, we’ll add more tables, knock down a wall, add more staff, do whatever it takes.

“This is my last stop.”

The Butcher Shop Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday – Friday, Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Corner Butcher Shop is located at 2359 Foothill Blvd. in La Verne in the Marshalls shopping center. The phone number is (909) 596-6345.

Chef Ricky is always ready to whip up something fresh and exciting for Corner Butcher Shop patrons.

Chef Ricky is always ready to whip up something fresh and exciting for Corner Butcher Shop patrons.

One Response to “From Lela’s and the Playboy Mansion to Little Old La Verne: Executive Chef Ricky Brewer Eats it Up”

  1. Great to see Ricky doing well! I just saw the re-run of Lela’s on Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares, and I thought that Gordon owed Ricky an apology! I would like to see Ricky appear in Hell’s Kitchen, where he would be given the opportunity to run an Upscale world class restaurant.

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