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From Sydney to Sunset: An Aussie Chef’s Rise to Culinary Director of LA’s Botanical Group

We catch up with Botanical Group culinary director Monty Koludrovic to learn what life is like for an Australian living and working in LA. The brand is opening new venues and encouraging more Aussie hospitality professionals to make the move and take on a new challenge, and Koludrovic wants to showcase how other Australians can follow his career path.

Monty Koludrovic is no stranger to hospitality. Originally from Byron Bay, he began his foray into kitchens when a chef didn’t show up for a shift at the cafe he was working in. Koludrovic jumped in to help out, and more than 20 years later (with stints in London and Sydney) he’s worked his way into a career-defining role and exciting new challenge in Los Angeles.

The role is culinary director at Botanical Group, an Aussie-run hospitality group with venues in California. The group’s latest venture is Grandmaster Recorders – a multi-storey former recording studio (which hosted acts such as Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers) that’s been converted into an Italian-inspired bar and restaurant showcasing the best of local produce, great music and Australian-style hospitality.

“It’s Italian at heart but not bound by the traditions that so many Italians cook with. We’re approaching it with a bit more freedom and incorporating our own influences from growing up in Australia,” Koludrovic says. “There are influences from Mexico and Latin America, too, and it’s guided by the phrase: ‘we cook food that Nonna would recognise but never cook herself’.”

Koludrovic says the Italian-inspired menu will source high-quality ingredients from local producers.

“Think fresh, raw seafood, crudo sliced to order, dry-aged fish, Santa Barbara uni, pastas, a wood fire oven, a wood grill,” he says. “We’re doing pizza on the roof and serving my wife’s crazy-good desserts as well.”

Italian cuisine is something Australians know inside and out, and it’s part of the reason Koludrovic is on the hunt for talented Aussie hospitality professionals to make the move to LA and join the team at Botanical Group.

“I’ve always felt that you need to provide great opportunities for people who are seeking them. This project is one of those things you’d look back on and always wish you’d done,” he says. “It’s an incredible building with an incredible history, amazing artists recorded there for almost 50 years. It’s such a cool concept to be a part of and I wouldn’t suggest that it’ll be the last great project we take on.”

Koludrovic knows a great opportunity when it’s presented to him. He’s worked in excellent venues all over the world, including a stint in London, working on Masterchef in Melbourne, directing the operation at Icebergs Dining Room in Sydney and opening The Dolphin Hotel. The appeal of a move to Los Angeles was based both on the job at Botanical Group and the allure of the US.

“I haven’t always longed to live here but I’ve always been fascinated by the country. We actually arrived in the US at the same hour patient one with Covid ended up in hospital over here, obviously unaware of what was about to unfold” he says. “There was lockdown one, there was all the unrest after George Floyd, plus Trump gave us plenty of reasons to give up on it, but we thought if we could do this then we could tackle any move. In a way, we got court-side seats to America being as American as it could be.”

Koludrovic also says starting on a clean slate helped him avoid stagnation in his career.

“There’s always excuses, especially with moving overseas, but I wanted to land in a place where I had zero relationship with the public and the industry. It was exciting to start again and learn loads of stuff,” he says. “I arrived in a place where I didn’t know the farms, the produce and the workforce. Going through that learning process again in an industry I loved was a big driver for me.”

Koludrovic and the team at Botanical Group have already had great experiences working with Aussies in LA, and now the team is on the hunt for more hospo professionals from down under to make the move to the US. It might seem daunting, but Koludrovic offers advice for anyone who might be a little hesitant.

“I don’t actually consider this to be the deep end, it’s more somewhere in the middle. The deep end is going somewhere like regional France where no one speaks English and there’s a heap of cultural differences,” he says. “People hear the Aussie accent over here and you’re already in the good books! It’s all relative and it’s a big move compared to something local but you’re well looked-after here and we’ll help you find your feet.”

There are a number of exciting new opportunities on offer with Botanical Group in Los Angeles. You can view the group general manager role here and the rooftop manager role here.

You can read more about life with Botanical Group in LA here.

This article is produced by Scout Jobs in partnership with Botanical Group

Photography: Courtesy of Botanical Group

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