In the Church of Catering and Events
At Vibiana, Former Restaurant Chef Neal Fraser Converts to Cater-ism
Although built in 1876, Vibiana Cathedral in Los Angeles is home to one of today’s most innovative event spaces. It boasts modern yet historical features and an in-house chef, Neal Fraser, who makes fine dining a quasi-religious experience. Starting as a line cook at Wolfgang Puck’s Eureka in the nineties, Fraser’s years of experience as a nationally recognized restaurant owner and chef have given him a breadth of knowledge that he now brings to Vibiana.
Fraser and his wife and business partner, Amy Knoll Fraser, started working with Vibiana in 2008 through their restaurant Grace as a preferred caterer. “Our first event was a classroom-style seminar and dinner for IBM and I fell in love with the space,” says Knoll Fraser, “The woman who gave me a tour said they were looking to add a restaurant in the adjoining rectory, and I just got chills.”
For the next several years the Frasers worked with Vibiana off and on to open a restaurant on site as part of Vibiana’s goal to use every inch of the venue efficiently. As the relationship progressed, a new opportunity arose and Fraser became part owner of the Vibiana property on Christmas Eve, 2012, and has been managing the 16,000-square-foot cathedral and courtyard ever since. In that time, he has also become the exclusive caterer to that space, and will operate the restaurant, Redbird, which is scheduled to open fall of 2014 in the adjoining rectory.
Under the direction of the new team (Fraser and Knoll Fraser operate Vibiana with restaurateur Bill Chait), Vibiana has become a unique, luxurious, boutique space offering extreme flexibility along with in-house a/v, lighting, central air, and furniture rentals as well as access to a premier chef who is dedicated to providing the highest level of food service.
It’s unique that a restaurant chef should become a caterer, and Fraser is aware of that. He’s found that there is much to be learned from one another such as:
It’s all about efficiency.
As a restaurant owner, Fraser has always valued efficiency and cost effectiveness, and he translates that into catering seamlessly. Because his team works from one central space, he is able to run Vibiana catering like a restaurant. “Our staff remains the same, they know where everything is every time, they aren’t going to a new location each night and having to find where their water is coming from, where their trash is going and where to plate,” Fraser explains. At the end of each event, he runs a profit and loss statement which helps him figure out where else his team can continue to refine and cut back.
Now, as owner of the venue, Fraser also defines efficiency as using every inch of available space. Not only is a restaurant being built in the adjoining rectory, but one of the test kitchens was built for the television show, “Flip my Food.” Additionally, Jenn-Air has donated all of its most modern models and will use the kitchen as a training facility for its sales team.
Using the best equipment
Fraser designed Vibiana’s catering kitchen in 2009 and continues to add and change it as new technology advances and techniques improve. He is passionate about vapor technology, which has transformed catering by preserving food at exceptional quality for longer periods of time. His CVAP (controlled vapor technology) oven provides precise control on food moisture and temperature. “It means you can pull a steak out within a two-hour window and it will be the right temperature, tender and juicy,” he says.
The kitchen also includes an Acutemp griddle and steam table, both of which also use steam technology. The griddle uses vapor to ensure it is the exact same temperature from corner to corner. It is not as hot, but is more consistent, allowing for larger amounts of food to be ready to serve around the same time. The steam tables were an idea that Fraser got from working in Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens from Eureka to Spago. It acts as a plating table, but also has covers and can become a warmer. Additionally, it is not electric, so it can be rolled into the middle of the dining room if needed.
Flavor over everything
All of these efforts boil down to Fraser’s value of flavor and food quality over everything – which is best illustrated by how he plates food. “Caterers get stuck wanting to prepare food ahead of time, while restaurateurs get stuck wanting to cook to order – but it’s really about marrying the two,” he says. Vibiana wants food to take the priority, and while plating to order does take longer, it truly preserves the high quality of food flavor and texture, making the dining experience memorable.
It’s unusual when a restaurant chef converts to cater-ism but Fraser has found his calling at Vibiana. When Redbird opens later this year, and off-premise catering from it develops and increases, we believe more and more of his following will be saying “Amen.”
By Ashley Allen, ReachMecca
eNews October 2014
Neal Fraser will be headlining the 2015 Catersource and Event Solutions Conference & Tradeshow held March 8-11, 2015 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more about the conference and register today!