We caught up with multi-hyphenate culinary star Greg Bernhardt to talk about combining chefdom with high-end fashion, mastering the balance between creativity and business savvy, and the time Dwayne Johnson rocked HARDT’s “Defile” Apron in The Rock X Siri movie. Yes, that happened.
The renowned chef/painter/art director Greg Bernhardt has been a staple in Los Angeles’s bustling culinary scene for over fifteen years. An artist in the kitchen who worked alongside some of the greats, including Chef Ludo (Ludovic Lefebvre), Joachim Splichal, and Neal Fraser, Bernhardt showcased his chops on TV in 2006, when he won Iron Chef.
His status grew even more after opening the high-end restaurant Church And State in L.A.’s downtown Arts District, and later while at the helm of Paley on Sunset Boulevard (in the legendary building that housed CBS).
After years of working his brilliance behind-the-scenes in the restaurant world, Bernhardt joined forces with his wife, Marjori “Gigi” Seril, to create the leather goods brand HARDT. Featuring evolving capsule collections (wherein Season 1 is chef apparel and accessories), HARDT combines Bernhardt’s art direction and Seril’s experience as a fine leather goods and accessories designer.
BEFORE WE DIVE IN AND DISCUSS ALL THINGS DESIGN AND YOUR NAMESAKE LABEL, HARDT, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER AS A CHEF IN L.A.?
I grew up an artist and occasional musician, so I actually didn’t even realize I had committed to being a chef until the day we won Iron Chef! I was working with some amazing chefs and really fell in love with food, still as a painter at heart. As my career progressed, I was lucky to be part of some very big cultural shifts in L.A. and around some pretty amazing chefs. I still have my hands in a few projects on the horizon.
WE LOVE THAT YOU TEAMED UP WITH YOUR WIFE, MARJORI SERIL, A LUXURY DESIGNER AND ARTIST IN HER OWN RIGHT, ON HARDT. HOW DO YOUR SKILLS AND BACKGROUNDS COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER? WHAT SET OFF YOUR “LIGHT BULB,” THAT MOMENT YOU KNEW IT WAS TIME TO PIVOT AND PURSUE ANOTHER PASSION?
I’ve always been a creative person, so most of this is serendipitous, in the sense that Gigi has the know-how and I had the ideas. We both are extremely visual people. She has been very successful in her businesses before and brings all the tools of creating a new brand top to bottom, so I get the luxury of missing the “brain damage” portion of starting a business in fashion from scratch. We also share a vision in our aesthetic and styles, but I bring that super macho guy thing. (Jk, she actually just spit coffee out her nose.)
I will say that I am still very much a chef, so my transition may never be complete, and the real designer is “Gi.” We also wanted to build a brand that would outlast us, put our aesthetic out to a broader audience — something that will live beyond us. That’s difficult to do one plate at a time, in a restaurant, as a chef. As for pursuing other passions: that could last a lifetime!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LINE?
HARDT is the concept of evolving capsule collections that are inspired by our varied interests, so by proxy to my industry, we started with chef-related items. The next season is “Moto,” and then we will develop travel/leisure. The power in this is that we started in a very niche industry to work out all the kinks and growing pains, but still get our aesthetic out to the public, with each subsequent capsule collection growing in size and concept. We strive to appeal to the discerning client that goes for a rugged, masculine style with a clean modern aesthetic.
WHERE DO YOU FIND EVERYDAY INSPIRATION?
That’s easy: everywhere. Textures, sounds, colors, smells, vibes, they all are part of the echo chamber that reverberates back into my art somewhere, in design, painting, food — I can’t walk out the door without tripping over something that catches my eye.
WE LOVE THIS QUOTE THAT WAS ON ONE OF YOUR MOODBOARDS (ON INSTAGRAM): “CREATE BEAUTY, VALUE IMPERFECTION, LIVE DEEPLY.” WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE ABOUT IMPERFECTION?
I remember something my brother pointed out when we were kids: it’s Coltrane’s imperfections that make him perfect. It’s those glitches in personalities, artworks, songs, etc. that make them beautiful: the scars, the rough edges, that note that Kurt missed on “The Man Who Sold the World.” Those are the things that develop character and the things I lust after. Wabi-sabi, the rhythmic vitality of pre-colonial art, or the expressions in Chinese calligraphy — if we could bottle that most human thing, that is far more valuable to me than the concept of perfection.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BEING AN EXPERT AT THE CREATIVE SIDE + BUSINESS?
These days, one doesn’t live without the other. I think today to be successful, there needs to be a completely mutual respect for each other. Art doesn’t exist without some sort of monetization, and business really exists to commodify that art. I’m lucky that my business (food) lives and dies on strict margins, so the creative portion has absolute respect for the business portion, and the business portion wouldn’t be there but for that creative spark. One foot in each world if you have the bandwidth to do so, that’s my thought.
WE LOVE THAT THE ROCK WORE YOUR “DEFILE” APRON IN “THE ROCK X SIRI” MOVIE. MAJOR PROPS TO YOU! CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
That was a lucky stroke for us! I’ve long worked with Ludo Lefebvre, a very big chef, and his camp called me for a rush job that was hush-hush (as I recall we were on the road together when the call came), and we obliged, but Ludo couldn’t tell me anything about it. So the first view I got was literally with everyone else via Instagram. Thank you, Ludo!
THE ILLUSTRIOUS CHEF PAUL BOCUSE PASSED AWAY LAST MONTH, ON JANUARY 20TH. I KNOW YOU WERE GREATLY INFLUENCED BY HIM. WOULD YOU PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIS LIFE AND LEGACY?
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been influenced by this king of cuisine. In some way, we are all connected. One of the amazing things about this industry is the direct and indirect effect of mentorship, and many amazing chefs I know worked under chefs that worked directly under chef Bocuse. The Bocuse d’Or is always a beacon of greater achievement to look forward to, the invention of Nouvelle cuisine and the championing of “chef” as a profession to be proud of — these things he did and his spirit will be felt in the industry forever.
JUST FOR FUN, COMPLETE THIS SENTENCE: ”OTHER THAN MY PHONE, I NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT ___________”
A jug full of coffee and brain on charge. Oh, and deodorant. Super import. Always smell good. Can’t stand smelly folks, especially in the kitchen.