What fascinates López-Alt about starting a restaurant is the technical challenge: designing a menu and breaking it down into a sequence of moves that hired cooks can execute, to the letter, on his behalf. What he doesn’t care about, really, is restaurants. For a guy launching a food emporium in one of the world’s most food-obsessed regions — a place heavy on Michelin stars and philosophically dominated by farm-to-table don Alice Waters — López-Alt is surprisingly uninterested in foodie culture. “I have very few impressions of the food scene here,” he confesses, “because we don’t go out to eat much. And when we do, we want it to be friendly and convenient.” When he lived in New York, his favorite spots to eat out were Union Square Cafe, Motorino, and Uncle Boons — “unfussy places” that prioritize well-executed comfort food above all other concerns. Among his happiest discoveries in Silicon Valley is Chef Zhao Bistro, an unheralded Sichuan joint with ’90s-office-style drop ceilings and stainproof glass-topped tables.
For López-Alt, who has built an entire brand synonymous with perfectible cooking, the stakes with Wursthall are especially high. Creating foolproof recipes for home cooks is one thing; cranking out foolproof grub at restaurant scale is another thing entirely. “That’s the No. 1 point of pressure in all of this for me,” he says. “People are going to come in with an impossibly high bar: ‘This is gonna be the best X I’ve ever had!’ And hopefully it will be, but maybe it won’t, because it’s impossible to operate at that level all the time at a family restaurant where you’re paying 14 bucks a plate!” The DIY king of internet cooking, in other words, isn’t sure how the whole IRL thing is going to work out.
For most of my life, I didn’t pay attention to birds. Only in my 40s did I become a person whose heart lifts whenever he hears a grosbeak singing or a towhee calling and who hurries out to see a golden plover that’s been reported in the neighborhood, just because it’s a beautiful bird, with truly golden plumage, and has flown all the way from Alaska. When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if I’ve been asked to explain why I love my brothers. And yet the question is a fair one, worth considering in the centennial year of America’s Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Why do birds matter?
But she’s never merely whimsical, and if she’s arrived at a “crabby old age,” as she puts it, it’s inspired her to be engagingly mindful of everything around her.