Lawrence of San Francisco
Heads turn as the tall, hard-to-miss David Lawrence strides into the Regency Bar & Lounge with his gorgeous, petite wife Monetta White. "It's nice in here," he shares, taking a leisurely look around. We're glad he's impressed. UK-born Lawrence -- a dead ringer for British actor Idris Elba-- is the chef/patron of 1300 Restaurant & Lounge on Fillmore, a supper club in San Francisco, California. His parents, Daphne and Frank Lawrence, left Jamaica in the late-1950s for the United Kingdom. The classically trained Burton upon Trent-born chef, who was raised in Wembley, moved to the United States, some 26 years ago, where he worked at the Hilton Hotel as chef de cuisine, and then ran the celebrated Carnelian Room complete with jaw-dropping views of the city's skyline.
Conversation, aided perhaps by flutes of perfectly chilled Moët and mouthfuls of delicious oxtail tart, croque monsieur and lobster mac and cheese, is easy. "We work hard," he informs. His wife is the managing partner of 1300 Restaurant & Lounge, and they "look forward to our annual holidays here in Jamaica". Indeed, they've just completed a week at Silver Sands in Trelawny and are now at Strawberry Hill. Lawrence, who received his formal training at Westminster College in London, apprenticed with England's most celebrated and honoured culinarians, Albert and Michael Roux, the chef proprietors of the world-renowned Le Gavroche and the Waterside Inn (both three-star Michelin restaurants). He would work in total at five of the Roux brothers' establishments, advancing rapidly from apprentice to sous-chef in four years. In 1986, Lawrence was appointed chef de cuisine at London's chic Interlude Restaurant, where he prepared meals for the Prince and Princess of Wales; Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
We allow David Lawrence to tell the rest...
Thursday Life: (TL) How did you end up helming your own restaurant?
David Lawrence (DL):
I left the UK for the States in 1988, to join former Le Gavroche Chef Kurt Graising at the newly opened 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo, where I helped shape the restaurant's menu and culinary vision. I led the kitchen staff at The Carnelian Room creating an eclectic menu featuring French-inspired California cuisine and was the chef de cuisine at Cityscape Restaurant in San Francisco. At Cityscape I devised and implemented the Chefs for Kids programme, raising thousands of dollars for the Tenderloin After-School programme.
[Editor's Note: The City of San Francisco recognised Lawrence's efforts by awarding him a proclamation, declaring March 10, 1994 'David Lawrence Day.']
TL: How does one go from the fantasy of wanting a restaurant to actually owning one?
DL: Hard work, belief in your dreams and endurance! It's a marathon... some good miles, some bad ones, but you must hang in there because you always finish! That's how you own one. You don't give up!
TL: Tell us a little about the menu at 1300 on Fillmore. Are Jamaican flavours included on your menu?
DL: All of my food has a Jamaican foundation. I combine my French training, my Jamaican roots and my wife's (American family) roots' influences. The unique flavours of my food allow our restaurant to stand out.
TL: Name-drop a bit and tell us a few of the celebs who've enjoyed your unique flavours at 1300 on Fillmore.
DL: Halle Berry, Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Cicely Tyson, Nas, Kobe Bryant, Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer, to name a few. 1300 is the San Francisco celeb spot.
TL: What plans are on the front or back burner?
DL: We are in the process of opening another concept -- a fast, casual restaurant -- a cookbook and products.
TL: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
DL: I would say that all of the things listed above would have happened and that we'll most likely have three to four more properties up and running. This would allow us to spend more time in Jamaica. Jamaica is our ultimate end game for retirement.