Kai Lobach's “baby” is Currywurst, the hole in the wall sausage restaurant on Fairfax Avenue that he opened a few years ago and is fighting to keep alive and well. Small, compact, and beautiful as it is, it has not had the proper attention it deserves! Maybe it’s because in Southern California we don’t appreciate sausage stands. They are a common site, though, in Germany and are as popular and ubiquitous as Mickey D's here in America. We don’t think in terms of sausages for lunch…or dinner…and not too much for breakfast anymore, truth be told.
No, when making a lunch plan, sausages, (pork, chicken, or veal), served on a delicious homemade brioche bun, with a choice of different sauces on the side, (including my favorite aoili mayonnaise) doesn’t come readily to mind. But it should, the way Curry Wurst makes it! Served with excellent French fries on the side. My Heaven. The French fries are so good; in fact, they could be the main act.
Kai Lobach goes way beyond interesting and catapults risk-taking to new heights. He also seems to be quite fearless, but I suppose one has to be to lead a life guided by passion. Make that plural…passions.
Kai is a chef who has his own event planning business one could call celebrity driven or sustained. Born, raised and schooled in Germany, and having attended European culinary institutes, it would be natural to assume that food and cooking are his main passions. But haven’t we all been taught, assume nothing. Or, as my growly teen puts it, assuming makes an ass out of you and me. Collecting art and what he lovingly refers to as his “baby”, take first position.
Currywurst is everything you expect of a great hole in the wall only more so. More so meaning; immaculate. Not one to drag out that tired “eat off the floor” line, I never have…until now. If the well scrubbed floors, counter and tables aren’t enough of a visual treat, the mural that extends the width of one wall in this narrow space, which is a fun, kitsch, colorful, collage of German words, faces, currywurst signs and screaming caricatures in vibrant rich colors, most certainly is.
Currywurst is a happy place, a fun place. Eating your yummy sausage (think hot dog only better tasting, better quality, all natural ingredients) and fries is fun. The staff, usually two well trained cook /servers, look happy and genuinely want to make you happy too. They also clearly love their boss.
When asked by this inquiring mind who owned the place and if he was a good boss, Kai got genuine raves given with sincere smiles. Only well respected, well treated workers care for a place like it’s their own which these guys clearly do.
Respect holds true across the board. Kai’s other main passion, collecting art, thrives on respect, love, and borders on insanity…which he readily admits!
Filling walls, shelves, the guest bedroom of his house, at least one storage unit, if not several, he collects out of love and what he says has become his obsession. From the biggies like Marina Abramovic, Matthew Brand, and Gerhard Richter (Seriously. I’d never seen one outside of a museum before!) to unknown sculptors he finds on trips to South America and Africa, he is like Sex in the City’s Carrie with her Manolo’s: true love never investment. In describing what he himself calls his “addiction” to buying art, Lobach says he cooks to make money to buy art. When asked when he became interested in art, Kai, who is smart as a fast thin whip, and very funny (think droll, more English than German in the humor dept.) with great charm, (and did I mention handsome) slides his 6 ft plus body gracefully onto the sofa and replies, “I was born an artist!”
Later on, describing his cooking method, rubbing an herb this way, pinching and adding this flavor, that spice, stirring maybe this amount of time, that many strokes, his statement rings true. He is an artist who loves his medium, be it cooking or collecting, whether his canvas is his restaurant, your home or his.
And a word about his home…Kai’s hillside home quietly invites you to look and learn. Inside the colors, shapes, and textures bid you and spark curiosity. Everywhere there’s something pretty and well tended to look at. With so much art it still feels well organized and oddly minimalist. The house, like his “baby” is spotless. Spotless and comfortable, an unbeatable combo. At the back of the house, there is the obligatory blue pool, fruit trees and cactus plants in all shapes and sizes. There’s an outdoor kitchen and patio that could pass for an open air restaurant in a beach town in Mexico. Answering “I did” to the question who landscaped this place, I begin to understand why he needs a mere mortal such as myself to spread the word about his precious baby, Currywurst. The man doesn’t have time!
Between tending the plants, cutting back the roses, cruising the art marts online and on foot, and catering parties from Bel Air to Malibu, who has time to toot his own horn about those yummy sausages? (The day I interviewed him he was cooking for a weekend wedding in Malibu, the rehearsal dinner, the reception for 200 and the vegan goodbye lunch on Sunday for 75. Tight lipped German…no names. And I begged!)
Something else interesting and most delicious, (other than the sausages, and I’ve become a lunchtime regular at Currywurst) is that while Kai Lobach is busy cooking, gardening, and avidly perusing Art Basil, he is also one of the co- founders of Partners for Pediatric Progress, a non-profit that sends doctors, supplies, and medical trainers to outlying hard to reach areas like Mozambique and the Amazon region of Chile, bringing aid to children who would otherwise be unable to receive proper medical care.
How in the world does the man have time to keep those potatoes so perfectly fried while doing so much? Did he dream up that aioli sauce in his sleep? Does he even sleep? It boggles the mind. And he isn’t about to give up a thing. His Bel Air clients adore him and write him effusive hand written thank you’s for making their dinner parties sublime. With a twinkle in his eye he’ll fascinate you describing a newly acquired painting while reminding you that he needs to keep cooking to pay for it. And then there is his baby…his “little Wurst” as he so lovingly refers to it. That’s where his heart is. That’s his heaven, his little bit of German heaven, right here in LA.
109 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
by Chef Mark Shoup