This Chef Has Been Hiding a BBQ Lab in a Strip Mall Garage for Five Years
It’s hard to wrap your mind around what’s happening when you approach Adam Perry Lang’s barbecue laboratory slash knife forging facility slash mancave in Lawndale, California. A giant trailer supporting two enormous wood-burning BBQ pits smokes in the front of the roll up garage door. Out in this suburb of Los Angeles, you’d have to be looking for Lang’s place on purpose to stumble upon it. It’s around the corner from a gas station and auto body shops and some houses, hiding in the middle of storage space-looking units. Lang—who is opening a 147-seat meat-centric restaurant in Hollywood in 2018—has had this secret for five years. He’s in interesting company—his garage neighbors are surfboard shapers and Olympic volleyball trainers all taking advantage of Lawndale’s $1-per-square-foot affordability.
An author of books himself, Lang has a huge wall of cookbooks flanking one of the walls of his BBQ test kitchen garage. There are books on curry recipes, fresh water fish, pizza-making. His most treasured pieces of his library don’t come from Amazon. “This is a cookbook I got an auction in Paris,” Lang tells me grabbing a dusty, dark covered tome. The book was printed in 1860. Lang also has signed menus from Salvador Dali, a massive butcher shop sign from the 1800s, and a cash register from 1919.
While Lang puts some red-glowing steel on an anvil to hammer into knife shapes, he tells me that bladesmithing is like making puff pastry. It’s all about layers. Around the garage you’ll find different knives for different occasions. There are knives Lang made for his upcoming restaurant, knives he’s bought around the world—like a sword-esque tuna knife designed to slice through the whole fish in one swoop. Part of his drive to make his own tools from Damascus stainless steel comes from personal frustration. “I hate muted instruments,” he says. It drives him crazy to see restaurants spend time cooking beautiful meat, then serve it to customers with shitty utensils. Lang believes that the quality of the knife can change the flavor of the food, something he first noticed by watching his father-in-law carry around his own knife and fleur de sel to restaurants.
Lang’s garage has a full bar, naturally. We drink a mezcal cocktail and talk about the issues of the meat industry while a 100-day dry aged cut cooks aromatically nearby. He tells me that the grass-fed label is bullshit. “Grass from where? How good can it be if you’re just feeding it straw?” He believes in trying everything, the good, the bad, and the really ugly, to make sure he has the best palate possible in his own kitchen. Lang visits farms and slaughterhouses to find out where the meat he’s sourcing comes from. “I didn’t know how I was going to feel around so much death,” he tells me of the experiences.
The chef will keep his lair indefinitely. It’s a lovely hidden gem to visit, with a long dining room table for the meat sampling, comfortable couches for lounging, nicknacks for time passing. Different corners look like Renaissance paintings between their butcher blocks, bowls of ingredients, and haphazardly stacked books. Lang slathers butter on grilled pieces of Lodge Bread Co. loaf to go with that dry-aged steak, a pickled vegetable medley, and pommes aligot. It’s the best meal I’ve had all week, and the best meal I’ve had in a garage in my life.