Chef Jon Shook's Love Affair With Food Began With a Papaya

Plus, his favorite spots in Los Angeles.

June 15, 2017 ● 2 min read

Jon Shook is the co-owner of Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, Petit Trois, Jon & Vinny’s and Trois Familia.

It's hard to narrow it down to an actual meal, but I remember when I really fell in love with eating, which I think got me into cooking. 

I was about 12 years old, and I was on a surf trip with a friend of mine and his older brother, Troy. Troy knew about a papaya tree in a cemetery right off the beach in Florida.

We drifted all the way down, and got out, then jumped the fence into the cemetery. He had hidden a knife by the tree—Troy was cool like that. He climbed up, got a papaya, and cut it open. I remember seeing all the little seeds. I was like, "What is that? Rabbit shit?" He scraped it out with the back of the knife, and then cut me and my boy Jared a chunk each. I remember it was so ripe and juicy, so sweet. It was, I think, my first time really experiencing tropical fruit at the height of its season.

I remember that moment very vividly. In my mind, it’s one of my big food experiences.    

When I first moved [to Los Angeles], I wasn't quite sure about it. After about two years, I was like, "This is the best city." The weather's nice, pretty much every day. When it rains, you're happy because you haven't seen rain in so long. The produce is insane. The lifestyle suits me and what I enjoy; I love it here. 

There's a lot of cheap, cheap low that's available here in LA. Most of them have been around for a long time. They're not like young kids doing something new. Like Dino's Chicken and Burgers. Papa Cristo's—also super good, super cheap. There's a ton of Mexican trucks that are all over the place. There's one that parks on La Brea and Olympic? Right across the street from Top Round, and it's the best. I love exploring Koreatown. Soowon Galbi is probably my top Korean barbecue because I like all the different kimchis that come with it, and I'm a fan of the rice paper that they give you that's like a rice noodle.

In the high price point, sushi is king here. My all-time chef idol is Nobu Matsuhisa, and my favorite sushi is the original Matsuhisa on La Cienega. That should be your experience. I think it's like 35 years old by now, and he's there a lot. I think it's a must.

I find myself going less and less to the places people write about because it's so hard to get in! I'm big into restaurants that have been around for a long time and understanding why. I appreciate those. 

As told to Karen Armstrong by Jon Shook | Image via iStock