Au revoir white tablecloths and fancy tasting menus. This chef wants to bring affordable fare to the people of Los Angeles with his new restaurant, Revolutionario, a fast-casual “North African taco” shop located just a few blocks from the University of Southern California.

Raised in France, chef Farid Zadi blends his Algerian roots with classic French and Latin American flavors and techniques to produce a unique menu at Revolutionario, where spiced lamb tacos, lemon-rose flavored aguas frescas and tofu tagines share the stage. We talked to chef Zadi about what he ate growing up as a child of Algerian immigrants in France, what makes a North African taco and how he hopes to help alleviate hunger and make food more affordable in Los Angeles.

Chefs Feed: How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

Farid Zadi: 18 years.

CF: What brought you to LA?

FZ: My destiny. I came here to visit a friend and I ran out of money after six months and had to look for a job. I got a job at La Cachette (in West Los Angeles; it’s now closed), then I met my wife and proposed a week later.  

CF: Did your parents cook a lot when you were a kid?

FZ: Oh yeah. My mom would do tagines, couscous, very simple things. She liked to go to the fish market and really liked the bread and fresh cheeses in France. It was very simple food but good.

CF: How do those foods inspire your cooking today?

FZ: The things that I taste in my mouth should remind me of them. It’s instinct. It should bring me back to growing up in France. I have 33 years in the kitchen. I’m not pretentious, but you know, it’s hard to explain. It’s all those years in the kitchen.

CF: What spices distinguish North African cuisine?

FZ: It is gonna be ras el hanout. It has about 30 spices in it. That is the flavor of the North African world.

CF: Why did you name the restaurant “Revolutionario”?

FZ: It means revolution. It’s a little bit of me. I make my own rules. I’m creating a revolution in the kitchen with North American and North African cuisine. Even Latin American cuisine (already) has Moorish influences.

I wanted to do something simple and affordable and fresh for the people to enjoy in a simple atmosphere, without emptying their wallets. It’s fast casual. We don’t validate parking. It’s good, it’s fresh, it’s simple.

Revolutionary people are simple. If you take Che Guevara or Algerian independence people, they are simple because they represent the people.

Algerian people live and survive with what they have. My father passed away when I was young and my mother raised 7 kids alone. Whatever you have, you use. No foie gras. Simple, simple, simple, but good. I should write a book about this!

CF: You should! A lot of people would relate to your experiences.

FZ: Yes, they would.

Lemon-rose agua fresca is prepared at Revolutionario in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of chef Farid Zadi.

: So, what is a North African taco?

FZ: It is basically using ras el hanout, harissa, Latin American cooking techniques and French and North African techniques. You take spices from North Africa and that’s your seasoning. Then I smoke the lamb rubbed with hanout, (but) in North Africa we don’t smoke a lot—we grill. And we’re also doing a tofu tagine.

CF: Do you use corn tortillas?

FZ: Yes, corn tortillas—the blue ones and yellow ones for the tacos. We also make a flatbread that’s like lavash and pita bread.

CF: Saaj?

FZ: Yes, that’s the bread. It’s cooked over a flat top.

CF: What do you serve it with?

FZ: People can have it with the burritos. We roll it with the rice and lamb or cauliflower. Flour tortillas are too heavy.

CF: Revolutionario’s prices are very low (between $1 to $10.) How do you keep prices low and still use high quality ingredients?

FZ: By using fresh ingredients, and whatever we need that day, we cook that day. It’s hard to tell what you’re gonna serve (on a particular day and if demand will be high) but if we run out, we run out. Keeping inventory low helps keep costs down.

CF: You also have another project, Sunday Suppers, which will be a free meal service for homeless and low-income people in LA that’s funded by donations. What inspired you to create that program?

FZ: In America there are people who still have nothing to eat. We didn’t want to just take from the community. We wanted to give back. People can give two bucks extra (when eating at Revolutionario) and feed people who don’t have food (through Sunday Suppers.)

CF: Do you miss working in white table cloth, Michelin-starred restaurants?

FZ: No. I did that all my life. I can do something else now.

CF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

FZ: It’s the beginning of a food revolution. I’m not gonna change the world with this but I want to change prices. It’s the idea of making food affordable for people.

Interview by Sara Bloomberg
Photos courtesy of chef Farid Zadi.