While working at the same restaurant about a decade ago, two local chefs gradually learned how to converse with one another using only their eyes.
“We got to a point where I would look at him and know what he needed. He’d look at me and know what we needed when we worked the line together,” said Rene Ortega, who’s collaborated with Drew Terp in a handful of kitchen settings over the years.
Their first mutual workplace was Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, where Terp was head chef and Ortega was a line cook when they met.
“He’s [Terp] like the bigger brother I never had—I have a lot of brothers, but you know what I mean,” said Ortega, who described Terp as a mentor who helped him find his culinary voice. “He really took me under his wing and taught me how to appreciate food and how to respect it.”
Ortega and Terp also worked together at Pico Los Alamos. Terp was the original chef behind the acclaimed restaurant, where he started during its opening in 2016. He asked Ortega to switch over with him because they worked so well together, Ortega said.
“When he got approached to do Pico, he took me along with him, and the rest is history,” Ortega said. “When we first opened Pico, we could totally just read off of each other and do the whole service without even making any words.”
Ortega continues to share this sixth sense of sorts with Terp during work hours at the duo’s current venture—R&D Local Kitchen.
A popular brunch spot, Brekkies is open for breakfast and lunch daily. The eatery’s evening vacancy inspired Terp and Ortega to pitch the idea of starting a dinner pop-up three nights a week at the venue.
A clever double meaning and wordplay on its two founders’ first initials, R&D operates similarly to a research and development department as both Terp and Ortega enjoy experimenting in the kitchen. Terp described the pop-up’s comfort food offerings as “stuff that’s very familiar but kind of reimagined.”
The loaded baked potato salad, for example, is the duo’s attempt at reconfiguring a loaded baked potato into a semi-traditional potato salad. While the salad is served cold as expected, it’s topped with crispy bacon and a warm layer of melted cheddar.
The item is featured as a side dish with the sous vide pork baby back ribs, Terp’s personal favorite offering on the pop-up’s current menu.
“For me, right now, the kind of dish that I feel the most connected to and that I’d sit down and eat is the pork ribs,” said Terp, whose pop-up serves each plate of baby back ribs with house-made barbecue sauce.
With a selection that’s approachable to families—through a kids menu of pasta, hot dogs, quesadillas, and grilled cheese sandwiches—and adults looking to grab dinner, beer, or wine, R&D tries to offer “a little bit of something for everyone,” Ortega said.
The duo strives to keep menu items reasonably priced as well. Dinner entrees on the pop-up’s current menu range between $9 and $16.
“We want people to be able to come in with kids and order food without having to spend $100 a person. You can’t even go to the movies anymore without spending that much” Terp said. “We want [R&D] to be approachable, specifically to people with families, but also people that don’t have families or don’t have to bring their kids.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood wants his baby back, baby back, baby back, baby back ribs. Send a bib to [email protected].