Ilan Hall ’02, Executive Chef/Owner/TV Host
Born to travel-hungry Scottish and Israeli parents of Eastern-European descent, chef/owner Ilan Hall was exposed to international food from an early age.
Raised in Great Neck, NY, Ilan’s first job was at the local seafood store, Marine Fishery. At 17, Ilan went to Florence where he studied at the Lorenzo de Medici School’s Apicius program and cooked at the Al Lume di Candela restaurant. Then it was on to The Culinary Institute of America where he spent his externship at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in New York City. After graduating the CIA with an associate’s degree, he went on to get his certification in baking and pastry arts at the school’s St. Helena, CA campus. While there, he worked at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Back in New York, Ilan cooked for Tom Colicchio at Craft, and for Mario Batali at Casa Mono, under chef/co-owner Andy Nusser ’95.
In 2007, at age 24, Ilan won season two of Bravo TV’s reality competition, Top Chef.
In August 2009, Ilan opened his first restaurant, The Gorbals, named for the neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland where his parents grew up. Located inside The Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the restaurant serves global immigrant cuisine. Ilan’s second Gorbals restaurant opened on July 29, 2014 in Space Ninety 8, the Urban Outfitters concept store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “The bánh mì poutine and bacon-wrapped matzoh balls are the same, but the rest of it’s all new,” he says. “The space will be similar and have the same soul as LA but with a brand-new menu. From the rooftop you can see the Williamsburg Bridge, the World Trade Center, and the Empire State Building.”
In 2015, Ilan closed The Gorbals in Los Angeles and and in November opened lunch spot Ramen Hood at the Grand Central Market. The stall’s menu is completely plant-based. “Our food isn’t only for vegans. Our underlying goal is to be creative, have fund with our food, and make it healthy and appealing to everyone,” he says. In December 2015, Ilan replace The Gorbals in Brooklyn with Esh, an Israeli barbecue. Esh, which means fire in Hebrew, will make better use of the kitchen’s wood-fired grill. “I’ve always wanted to instill more Middle Eastern and Israeli flavors into my food,” Ilan says.
In early 2013, Ilan developed a television program called Knife Fight with executive producer, Drew Barrymore, for the Esquire Network. “The concept of the show started when I was working at Casa Mono and we had mise en place leftover that wouldn’t last for the next day. So instead of throwing it out, we would throw it down,” Ilan says. Debuting on September 24, 2013, the show was described as an underground, after-hours cooking competition, where talented chefs go head-to-head in front of a rowdy crowd of celebrities, critics, and die-hard foodies. Each episode has different contestants that face off in pairs at The Gorbals’ Los Angeles kitchen. The show has a rotating cast of judges.
Season one, featured fellow CIA alumni Trevor Rocco ’07, Amar Satana ’02, Chris Kobayashi ’02, and James Trees ’01. Season two, premiered on April 15, 2014. “I feel like the industry has embraced the show—they connect with it because it’s in a restaurant, and by having no prizes and nothing to win, people just let down their guard and go for the gusto,” explains Ilan. “Chefs that I know love it because it’s more their speed.” Season two featured CIA alumni Kelly English ’04, Kelly Liken ’02, and recent James Beard Foundation Award winner for Best Chef: South, Sue Zemanick ’01. “The fights that came out best were when chefs were judging other chefs, because there’s a mutual respect that you can’t really replicate,” says Hall.
Knife Fight is now into its fourth season. Taping moved from Los Angeles to Brooklyn and is now filmed at Esh. With contestants from all over the world lining up for Knife Fight, Ilan’s wanderlust is appeased for the moment by being able to craft culinary creations from a wide range of nationalities and enjoy the respect and camaraderie of other chefs.