By Andy Wang
Monty and Jaci Koludrovic are, respectively, the chef and pastry chef who opened Grandmaster Recorders, a restaurant/lounge/rooftop at the site of a former Hollywood recording studio. The couple, who previously ran the kitchen at Icebergs in Sydney, left Australia to join hospitality company Botanical Group. With Botanical, the Koludrovics opened West Hollywood’s Strings Of Life (S.O.L) in June 2020, and debuted Grandmaster Recorders in December 2021.
MONTY KOLUDROVIC: I think the story really starts when we took the jobs to run Icebergs in Sydney. Up until that point, we hadn’t delved into Italian food or Italian-Australian. And it was also a restaurant that had an incredible history. It has gone up and down over a number of years, and it needed the ship steady. But for us, it was a good move because it was such an iconic restaurant, and it gave us a platform where we could really start communicating to a wider audience. The first year was a bit bumpy while we worked out exactly what we wanted to do. But then, the following five years were an incredible time, and we really honed in on what our cooking was.
And we really built relationships with suppliers and producers, and went on to open a number of venues in that stable. We raised our kids there. Every now and then, my iPhone reminds me of when the kids were only up to my hip and not my shoulder. We were giving sorbets to tide them over for a few hours when Mum and Dad finished work.
It got to a point where it stopped being that journey phase and started just being the thing that we did. There was a bit of flatness around our work—something that we weren’t necessarily used to. And when we looked around town, there wasn’t really anything else we wanted to do. There’s lots of people we admired, and lots of people that we would have gone into business with, but not jobs that we could have jumped into. And then the call came from LA.
We saw the chance for a really iconic building to have a new life, and to be engaged from the absolute start, as opposed to jumping in 10 years in. The Grandmaster building and its history is something that’s easy to get excited by. But also, there’s Los Angeles and the spirit of adventure that we felt we could share with our kids. And it doesn’t get any more different when you’re looking at where you want to work and diving into the opposite side of the Pacific.
When the call first came in, my response was, “I’m going to need to chat to Jaci.” I came home and I was like, “I pretty much know the answer, but I’ll throw it out anyway.” And I threw it out there, and Jaci was like, “Yeah, cool. If you think it’s a good move, let’s do it.” Is that how it went, Jaci?
JACI KOLUDROVIC: Pretty much.
MONTY: We moved two years ago today. We’ve got a bottle of … What have we got? Champagne in the fridge? We might have to celebrate surviving two years. Jaci got horribly ill on the flight over here and was bedridden for the first couple of days. God knows what it was, whether it was COVID or not, because they weren’t testing for it then. And then we had a couple of months to get settled before COVID really set in.
The kids got into school, met a few friends. It was back in the day where all the parents were outside the classroom door as opposed to outside the fence. And then lockdown happens.
We’d made the decision to get a house much bigger than what we needed, because we knew that a load of Aussies would come and stay with us, including our family and whatnot. So we had lots of room. We had a pool. So as far as lockdown accommodations, we were sorted. Obviously, no family and friends did come to stay with us.
I think our decision to stay in LA was in part the idea that it was the same for everyone, really, everywhere. There was an unknown situation unfolding. We didn’t know what that represented in Australia, and financially it would have been a real challenge moving back, and the hospitality industry was just capitulating everywhere. And so, we just decided that, unless we didn’t feel safe here, that we would hang tight.
JACI: To be honest, I haven’t really had much to do with the opening of any of the restaurants, because I’ve been sort of the main parent, I guess.
MONTY: S.O.L was an interesting one, but you were definitely a part of it.
JACI: I’m a very hands-on person, so I try to get into the restaurant, and I do the baking, but we do it at E.P. because there’s not enough space at S.O.L. So we developed items that can be executed in the E.P. kitchen and that have a bit of longevity.
When it comes to the restaurant desserts, I’m in there as much as I can during the day. I have a pastry chef in each venue, and I go through the creative process of doing what I want. I’m not holding back, but it needs to be something achievable that someone else can do if I’m not there. I have that whole daytime while the kids are at school, or in one of the camps, to go in and prep. And then I know desserts can be executed in the nighttime by someone else.
MONTY: Can I interject and just explain how humble Jaci is? Anyone who has seen the tiramisu at Grandmaster knows that there’s technique and incredible balance and theater to the dessert.
Something we did in Sydney was we opened the Dolphin Hotel. The decision was made that we were just going to get this thing open and then deal with the renovations that were required as we went. Over a number of weeks, we completely rebuilt the kitchen pretty fast. And then we launched it and got a Chef Hat in a place where it probably wasn’t expected.
And Jaci did the whole dessert menu one day a week. What she managed to achieve one day a week with very little support from the general kitchen was just mind-blowing.
And now to move to the other side of the world … We’ve made some friends, but we don’t have any family here. And we haven’t landed on a regular good sitter. Not that it would work economically to do that.
JACI: There was always a little bit of a daily struggle when we were doing Zoom school. But our kids are pretty good with routine. We were lucky because we have an extra room in the house, and set it up as the school room. So once the kids were settled, I had a two-hour window where I would go into the kitchen at home and work on recipes or test a couple of things. And then the kids want a snack.
MONTY: For the first three or four weeks, I was in the kitchen at S.O.L. every day, partly because it was a tricky time to get people to work. And we would just share the parenting roles. I want to be engaged with our kids’ lives. So as much as possible, we’ll do a bit of a parent swap. We’ve always done that. We’ve always worked together and tapped in, tapped out.
JACI: I still like doing nights. I still like doing service shift. I’m excited to get back into that in a couple of weeks.
If I didn’t work with Monty as my husband and my boss, I probably wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now, because no one wants a pastry chef who can only do so many hours, or who has to run off at three o’clock, or who gets a call that their kids are sick. So many women and parents in the workforce face that—where it’s just hard to find that time. So I’m lucky that Monty is my boss and lets me go when I need to, or goes himself and knows that I need to stay back and do something. There’s not many roles that have that flexibility.
MONTY: We all thought it was going to be a couple of weeks and life’s going to go back to normal. And then it was a couple of months, and now it’s a couple of years. Had someone told us in March of 2020 that we’d still be struggling two years later, we would have laughed at that notion. It was, like, impossible.
When the heaviest of the restrictions eased, it was time to turn the building back on and get Grandmaster finished. We opened, and then Omicron came along. Customers were canceling, events were postponing. The amount of events that we had around the Grammys was incredible, the amount of work that the events team did in the lead-up to that. And then it just gets canceled. It’s just wild times.
Partly, it’s good for us, I guess, that we can just focus on the food. And regardless of anything else that happens, there’s still some mascarpone mousse that is still just mascarpone mousse. And making it delicious is still our job. And in a way, that’s really helpful, and you get to focus on just making good food, and working with good people, and making sure that your staff are having a nice time at work, and that you’re providing something really special for everyone.
What the building represents is really fun. And we wanted the food to be fun. And it was something that we always used as a bit of a guiding force. Even if a lot of work has gone into it, when it hits the plate, it needs to really bring that fun forward.
The tiramisu actually started because I found the plate that it comes on, and it just looks undeniably like a record. Jaci had an idea of doing a chocolate transfer that was an edible record center. Grandmaster is a place that you can come and engage with and have fun, and maybe people need that more than ever now.
We’re already looking forward to the next one. We’ve got two more openings. One is a new concept called Blondie on Melrose Avenue, only like a block from E.P. & L.P. I call it a barstaurant, where we’re making a bar that has incredible food. And then we’re opening another Strings Of Life over in Santa Monica.
JACI: We’ve always referred to each other as being 24/7 because we met in a restaurant in Sydney back in the day, and it was really crazy hours. So we knew each other in a work sense before we got to know each other in a personal sense, which is probably great. Lots of couples, once they get to know the other person, find out that they’re not fit for each other, especially in hospitality.
We’ve actually pretty much always done everything together. There was only one point, I believe, when our firstborn was a few months old and Monty worked on the Master Chef series and I was on maternity leave, where we haven’t had that same work life, that togetherness. We prefer doing everything together.
All we want to do is go to the cinema together, and also go to lunch. That’s something we used to do a lot. Or we’d go to the beach. If everything goes back to normal and the kids are in school and there’s no drama, these would be the three things I’d want to do with Monty.
MONTY: Just to go back one step, I think one of the things about working together that helps our relationship is that there’s not two worlds. There’s not a world that I come home to and talk about with characters in it that Jaci doesn’t know. I think that makes everything so much simpler. It’s not like, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.”
JACI: And it’s also not fighting about whose work is more important. I know when Monty needs to be at work, and he knows when I need to be at work. There’s not that “You’re prioritizing your work over mine” that a lot of people go through.
MONTY: We’re actually doubling down on our future. Travel is something that both of us did a lot of before we had kids, and part of moving here was instilling that sense of adventure in our kids and reminding ourselves that time is precious. We’ve actually sold our property in Australia to make cash flow less of an issue. So actually, let’s go and do some of the stuff we want to do.
Jaci’s dad is coming over. They’re planning a trip to New York and also going to Graceland. And then we’re planning a trip to Europe. I want to take my kids to a restaurant like Mugaritz out in the hills, outside of San Sebastian. The boys want to go to a soccer game, so let’s go to Paris. And we’ve got friends down in Provence. And I want to show the kids Venice. That’s probably the most exciting thing about the world moving on, from my point of view—just go get it.
Jaci and I both try to live with the no-regrets philosophy. Had we not come to America, we definitely wouldn’t be sizing up a Europe trip mid-pandemic. I think the last two years have taught us so much and changed our outlook so much that I wouldn’t change anything.