Locals + Culture

Chef Gabe | Copper Common

4/17/2014 | Amy Tibbals
Melissa Lipani

Though we COLLECTIVELY mourned the closing of Plum Alley, Copper Common has swooped in all cool as a cucumber to fill the big shoes that were left behind without any trouble at all [in fact, they're wearing the hell out of them]. We intend to pick the brain of Rachel Hodson, lead designer for Copper Common, within the next couple of weeks, but first up: a feature on our client and pal, Gabe Llanos. He and his wife have recently returned to our stellar city from goodly Brooklyn, at which point cityhomeCOLLECTIVE [via Leigh Anne] helped them find the perfect pad. Gabe is also one of the mouth-water-makin' chefs you'll find in the Copper Common kitchen developing the next signature taste, which will probably involve a locally-raised, "big, gnarly hunk of meat" or something of the like.

"I’m happy to be in a city that’s getting excited about food"

Copper Common is a bar first: a beautiful, bustling, amply-stocked bar [whaaa...no Zion curtain?], where the on-duty mixologist will happily whip you up a bangin' version of a classic cocktail. But it's also quickly stamped itself as 'that new joint where we should totally eat every damn night of the week.' The deviled eggs, alone, are worth a visit, but you'll likely be thrilled to stick around for the meatballs, chicken croquettes, fresh-shucked oysters, and everything else. It's no wonder this is the spot where our talented chef has chosen to feed the hungry foodie masses. We had a chat with him to find out what makes him tick. And cook...

You recently moved back to Utah from Brooklyn to be a chef at the Copper Common; what lured you there? How does it differ from your experiences as a chef in NY? After moving back to Salt Lake about a year ago, I started out at the Copper Onion. Ryan and I had worked with some of the same people in New York, and it just felt like the right fit from the start. I considered some other options, but knew this was the company I wanted to be with. There are a lot of great projects on the horizon, and I’m stoked to be a part of it. The restaurant industry in New York is kind of a pressure cooker, and new restaurants come and go all the time. It’s all about “what’s hot now”. When I thought about the kind of future I wanted to have, I dreamt of having a cool little neighborhood joint that would stick around for awhile. I’m happy to be in a city that’s getting excited about food, where the market isn’t totally saturated.

"I’m excited to teach my kids about growing food – “yard to table”, I guess."

What was most important to you to find in your new home? Do you have a favorite part about the space yet? Anything you can't wait to change or put your own stamp on? For us, the neighborhood was most important. Somewhere walkable, close to parks and stuff. Coming from so many years in the city, we didn’t think we’d be happy spending a lot of time in the car. The backyard sold us on the house. It has a rad patio for the grill and table, and plenty of space for planter boxes so we can get a little vegetable garden going. I’m excited to teach my kids about growing food – “yard to table”, I guess. The former owners have a great playset and they’re leaving that for the kids, so they’re all set. We’re pretty much planning on living outside until it snows, and then I’ll just grill dinner outside and bring it in. Being a chef, of course I’m looking forward to tweaking the kitchen a little.

What is your favorite thing to cook [either at home or at the restaurant]? Any secret ingredients or things you cannot live without in your cooking? I love to braise things. My favorite thing is to get a big, gnarly hunk of meat and throw it in a pot with a bunch of shit and cook it for hours until it turns to magic. In the summer, I love to grill. A grilled rib eye with chimichurri and vegetables is my definition of summer. For ingredients, I know it’s a cliché, but I love sriracha sauce and I love to mix it with mayo. It makes the best fry sauce ever. I also have to mention coriander. I love dried spices, especially this one. Mixing dried coriander with fresh cilantro is fun because they come from the same plant but have very different flavors.


"I hand-wrote about 4 pages going into detail describing the experiment..."

With all of your free time [note the sarcasm], what are you excited to do/see/travel to in Utah? I love the outdoors. Really looking forward to taking the kids camping for the first time and doing a lot of fly-fishing and mountain biking. My family and I took a whirlwind trip to Moab over Presidents Day weekend, and it was beautiful. Hoping to do more of that.

Tell me again about that cool tattoo on your forearm! I’m kind of a math/physics nerd, and that’s where some of my tattoos come from. The one on my forearm is actually from a photograph taken in a bubble chamber. I hand-wrote about 4 pages going into detail describing the experiment, but I think this is probably sufficient. It was also on the cover of that one Strokes album.

"Then the food world found me."

What is your favorite part about being a chef? If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing? My favorite part of being a chef is that I get to play with food. I get to create. Putting different flavors together is a lot of fun. As a kid I loved science and wanted to be an astronomer, and most of what I read now (aside from cookbooks) is science or sci fi. I started out being an engineering major in college, but didn’t like structured education. Then the food world found me. So I guess if I wasn’t cooking and I liked school more, I’d be a physicist.

What do you think is Salt Lake City's best kept secret? I’ve been away from Salt Lake for almost a decade so it’s changed a lot and I don’t know it as well, so I’m looking forward to finding that out.

Who completes you? I have an amazing wife, who is very compassionate and a lot smarter than I am. She will be starting school at Westminster this fall in a counseling program. She’s also a singer/songwriter and has an incredible voice. She made our kids--the two coolest kids I’ve ever met.

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