There’s an invisible string that ties together West Hollywood Cafe Strings of Life, Melrose Avenue hotspot E.P. & L.P and Hollywood’s buzzy newcomer, Grandmaster Recorders. It’s lead pastry chef Jaci Koludrovic who, along with executive chef and husband Monty Koludrovic, relocated to L.A. from Australia in 2020. Two years into her journey with the Botanical Group, Koludrovic is a cornerstone of the city’s culinary scene and consistently delivers on her mantra to always let the ingredients shine. Ahead of Grandmaster Recorder’s May8 Charity Event (which will support Queensland residents affected by recent unprecedented flooding), Angeleno spoke with Koludrovic about why she became a pastry chef, key lessons from the kitchen and what it’s like to balance a career and being a parent.
Did you know when you were a kid that you wanted to be a pastry chef?
I don't have any romantic stories about my mom in the kitchen, slaving away over a stove top or anything like that, but I've always had a really sweet tooth and I love all the candies and whatnot from the shop and I just have always loved all things sweet. And then I loved cooking, and I started off in the savory kitchen and always used to watch the pastry chef and loved what they were doing and I would get over and help when I could. I think when I was a third year apprentice back in Australia, I was given the opportunity to work on the pastry section and I was like, “Yeah, that's me, that's me.” And plus, I love that most of the time you get to work by yourself. You generally get sort of your own space, you generally get free range of creativity so there's lots of other things that come with it that are appealing.
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Do you still carry with you any key lessons you learned during your time as an apprentice?
Actually, I do. I never worked overseas. I've never traveled, I never finished my apprenticeship or whatnot and went to Europe and work. I didn't do that. I always stayed in Australia. I was lucky that the people that I worked under had had done that prior to me working with them, so they already had those classic French skills and whatnot that I could learn from them. I was always told, especially in pastry, make sure you always read the recipe thoroughly first, and that's something that I always tell people.
I find I'm very observant in the kitchen. I’ll often know where half of things are on someone else's section because I'm constantly looking at products and reading labels and when you’re putting something away and you see something new and you're like, “Oh, what's this? I wonder what this is for?” I find lots of people these days, it's like they've just got their blinkers on and they're not paying attention to anything else around them, whereas I feel like it's important to be constantly looking and listening and observing. You can pick up so much just by doing that.
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You relocated to the U.S. in early 2020. Was that right before the pandemic set in?
Actually our flight touched down from Australia the day, the hour that Patient One, I think, went to the hospital or whatnot in Seattle. Basically, right at the beginning of it. And we actually got quite sick when we first arrived here. We thought it was just jetlag and whatnot, but looking back now, it could have been coronavirus. We only just got the kids into school and just sort of got settled during lockdown. I don't think we've seen Los Angeles for what it should be.
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Between your work at S.O.L., E.P. & L.P. and Grandmaster Recorders, what have you been most proud of over the last couple of years?
I feel like being able to do different dishes in each place, like Strings of Life is very simple. It's cookies and, at one point, we were doing little cakes and it's more comfort food. It's not too tricky. And then doing the desserts at E.P. & L.P., It's a daily prep job. We go in there and prep during the day. We don't actually execute the desserts at night because it’s not busy enough to have a pastry chef in there, so a lot of that time when I'm doing the menu for E.P., I need to make sure that the desserts can be plated by the 22-year-old that's on the line that night, so I try and keep things simple and really straightforward. A lot of the work is done during the day, and so when it comes to plating, it’s just a matter of slicing it or scooping it or whatnot and putting it on a plate.
And then Grandmaster Recorders, we have a pastry chef here that works nights as well so we can do things that are a little bit more technique-driven. We churn all the sorbet fresh just before service. I get joy of all the different levels of the desserts that I'm doing.
I still get excited about making the protein cookies at S.O.L. and I still like to come to GMR and make the tiramisu— like it's all just different levels.
Different customers want different things, as well. At E.P., I think it's a party place. No one wants to wait around. They all want to get up onto the rooftop or go to the cinema or whatnot, whereas at GMR, you've got people that are happy to sit at the dining table and have the long chef’s menu.
What’s it like balancing your career as a pastry chef and being a parent?
Lots of tears on my behalf (laughs). Obviously Monty's my husband and the executive chef, so if I wasn't working with him, I don't think I would be able to do what I do. I work two nights of the week, so he's happy to have the kids and to pick up and whatnot on those nights. A lot of the time, I come into work really early because I like to have my own space in the kitchen. It can get a bit cramped sometimes, so he'll take the kids to school, so I'm lucky that he's really flexible. We work as a team. Also because we both work together, no one is saying, “Oh, my job's more important than your job” because we both really understand how each other works.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Courtesy Botanical Hospitality Group