Why We Love Neal Fraser
Neal thinks big. He works miracles, like turning a cathedral into one of LA’s most unique dining and partying venues. With Neal, there’s always something ever more brilliant just around the corner.
“We want to create a space where people can come and have a fantastic time. We’re really in the business of making people feel good.”
“LA’s gotten a bad rap from a long time, but I’ve been here to defend it. But people are coming here to open restaurants, flying here to eat in them, and I don’t have to defend it anymore.”
Why do you love LA's food scene?
I feel like I’m a part of it. Born and raised in Los Angeles, pretty much have only cooked here. I kind of wear it on my sleeve like a badge. We’ve been cooking great food in LA for a very long time, and I think it’s great to finally get our due. I don’t feel like we’ve changed a lot, we’re just getting more attention now.
You said you always wanted to be a downtown chef. What does that mean, for people not from LA?
I think downtown for a long time didn’t have its own identity. It had an identity of a place where people went for business and then left at night. It didn’t have a real nightlife—it was only for specific things, like sporting events or concerts. It didn’t really have a food scene; restaurants kind of rolled up at 7:30 or 8:00 at night. But I always loved the energy of downtown. I loved that it drew from different areas of LA that no other areas did. If you go west of Santa Monica, for instance, there are no other neighborhoods. Downtown is surrounded by them. We can draw from these areas and attract more and more people to come try our product.
Why do you think the cathedral/rectory building is such a unique space for the restaurant?
I think the fact that we have a restaurant and event space in one of the oldest buildings in downtown LA—and first permitted building—is so cool. It has a lot of history well before we got there. Restaurants spend a lot of time making an identity. They spend a lot of time on marketing and outreach to promote their space. But people have been promoting this space since 1876. It was the first Catholic cathedral here—the money came from the Vatican to build it. So, we try to honor the fact that it’s been a holy place to a lot of people, celebrate that and honor it. And it’s a space you would never and could never build today. You can feel its energy.
How do you think Redbird and Vibiana complement each other?
It’s a nice thing to have both. We have a lot of people who come in to do rehearsal dinners, one year anniversaries, five year anniversaries. A lot of people are exposed to the cathedral through the restaurant or vice versa. So, people come for a wedding and they have no idea there’s a restaurant. They may or not live in LA, and they sit at the bar and have a drink before a game. So, it’s been a nice sort of cross-promotion. We also have private dining spaces to bring people in. We have a lot of people walking through our doors and exposing it to people. We’re excited to have the opportunity to have them come in.
What does it mean to you to give back to your community through food?
This is the community I’ve been in for the past 51 years. I grew up in Laurel Canyon and went to high school in Hollywood. It’s been my community I’ve tried to support my whole life. Our outreach is food and beverage. We host a lot of events and I think there are a lot of people and organizations worthy of being supported and we do as much as we possibly can. We help with a program for kids to learn culinary skills during high school. We get to see kids in our kitchen and some of them go on to go great things. One of my old employees now has a full scholarship and he will be an industry leader and is only 23. Like most teachers will say, you don’t have to influence the whole class if you can just help even one it makes it worth it.
What got you interested in competitive cycling?
I rode BMX when I was a kid. There happened to be a thriving BMX scene when I was a kid. I’d go out to the teen center in San Fernando Valley and got hit. And then I transitioned from BMX to 10-speed and rode track until just about 20 years old when I went to culinary school and then never looked back. Also, then of my college friends whom I used to race bikes with started a tour company called Velo Asia Travel. So, I also led two trips for them and went on one of their first trips for them.
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Street food is Vietnam’s star; desserts are its lesser-known delights. Join pastry chef Meg Galus as we eat our way through local markets and Vietnam's top kitchens. Get hands-on with local chefs and bakers, cacao producers and chocolate makers. Bite by bite, we'll experience Vietnam's rich culture and French-inspired flavors.