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An Interview With Michael Hung From The Avalon's Viviane

An Interview With Michael Hung From The Avalon's Viviane

Picture of Jarone Ashkenazi
Updated: 30 November 2016
Chef Michael Hung’s culinary background has taken him from New York City to San Francisco to Los Angeles. In August of 2015 he left his job to lead the kitchen at Viviane inside the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills. We chat to to this impressive chef below.

 

How did you get involved in restaurants? 

I have cooked since I was about 12 years old.  At the time, my mother had surgery to repair scoliosis, and her recovery left her in bed for quite awhile. I fell to cooking in order to help around the house.

In college, I worked as a line cook at a few casual restaurants and it felt natural to me. I even considered transferring to the Culinary Institute of America, however in the end, I felt it was a better opportunity to finish my degree at the University of Michigan.

It wasn’t until the age of 25 that I actually seriously considered cooking professionally. I was doing painfully unsatisfying work in a corporate environment as a financial officer for a mid-size healthcare company and my life felt stagnant. One day, my younger brother called and told me that he was enrolling in culinary school.  It surprised me how angry and jealous I became, and I realized in that moment my anger was with myself. I had known since college that a career in culinary arts was where I belonged, however in following the path of a college graduate from a prestigious university, I had strayed from that calling. I enrolled in the same school as my brother, and we started taking classes together just a couple of weeks later.

Chef Michael Hung (credit: Viviane Restaurant)

Chef Michael Hung (credit: Viviane Restaurant)

What led you to open Viviane?

What drew me to Viviane was the space. When Stephane Bombet told me about the opportunity, I stopped by to get a feel for what the restaurant could be. I had brunch at the former restaurant, and stopped by again for a drink in the evening, and found the Avalon Hotel to have a wonderful sense of character. During the day, the pool and cabanas make for a great view, and at night, the way the pool glows and lights twinkle overhead and about create a feeling of magic and romance. When I learned about the history of the hotel, how it was once the residence of Hollywood greats like Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnez, the idea for the menu came to me. I was inspired to create food of that classic Hollywood era.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Coffee and shower, then check my emails.

Why call it Viviane?

I loved the feeling of myth and mystery the outdoor dining room has at night and wanted a name evocative of that sensibility. The hotel shares the name “Avalon” with the island in Arthurian legend from which King Arthur rules, and for me, drawing from those legends was perfect. Viviane is the name of the Lady of the Lake, who bestowed upon Arthur the sword Excalibur. As we have our own little “lake” in the hotel, I thought Viviane would be a perfect name.

Inside/Outside Dining (credit: Viviane Restaurant)

Inside/Outside Dining (credit: Viviane Restaurant)

Describe the restaurant, atmosphere and menu:

The restaurant is designed by the famed Kelly Wearstler, and she has chosen a mid-century aesthetic. It is clean, vibrantly colored, and casual in the way that California is. Our service is similarly so, in that we are professional and proficient without being formal or stuffy. Viviane is a place to have fun, to celebrate and be convivial with friends and family.  The food is created with the same sensibility; classic European and American flavors, lots of craft and technique, but still fun and casual. The menu is designed to be shared, some dishes, like the Pastrami Cured Salmon Tartine, are meant to be eaten with your hands, and overall the flavors are familiar and comforting with some surprises.

Explain the importance of where you purchase produce from?

I buy from other farms other than the one in Ojai, but the overall philosophy is to buy ingredients at their peak of flavor and small farms pick for flavor and quality. Mass production farms pick crops before they are ripe because unripe vegetables hold better for long distance transit.

What is your favorite dish?

My favorite dish right now is our Pan Roasted Sweetbreads. It is served with shell and fava beans marinated in sherry, a white bean and bone marrow puree, and natural jus. I love sweetbreads because when they are done well, they are crispy on the outside, salty and tender on the inside, and remind me of a chicken nugget!

Pan Roasted Sweetbreads (credit: Michael Hung)

Pan Roasted Sweetbreads (credit: Michael Hung)

What’s unique to Viviane?

Viviane is unique for the wonderful poolside location in a tucked away neighborhood in Beverly Hills. We are unique because we serve great food, prepared with care and fine dining technique, but we do it in a way that is fun, vibrant, and approachable.

What’s your pet peeve in the kitchen?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are not focused on the food and the work at hand.

Brunch or dinner?

Dinner.

Fine dining or beach picnic?

Both.

Fish, chicken or meat?

Fish.

Grilled cheese or PB&J?

Grilled cheese..

Fruit-flavored or chocolate-flavored dessert?

Fruit.

Viviane, 9400 W Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, +1 (310) 407-7791