An interview with Mitchel Zelinger, Tangram VP of Business Development, as he prepares a meal in the Tangram’s Downtown Los Angeles showroom kitchen.
“This will be your new favorite thing,” Mitchel Zelinger says, handing off a spoon with a steaming roasted tomato settled on top.
He pulls the rest of the sliced tomato’s out of the oven as he explains that his grandma would make this side dish in the traditional way by placing them on a tablecloth in the driveway, roasting them slowly under the sun.
“You’ll see, it’s like candy.”
VP of Business Development is a title that brings countless dinners, making connections with industry professionals over food and drink. It’s a practice that has been around as long as the title, but when Mitchel joined Tangram years before, he put his own spin on things.
Mitchel first found his passion for cooking as a teenager in his aunt’s Beverly Hills kitchen after moving in with her in 1980. He attributes his love for the art form entirely to her.
“If not for Aunt Elsa, I would not be in the kitchen,” Mitchel says after musing about her iconic zucchini casserole dish.
Preparing food quickly became his personal expression of creativity.
“My ode to being a maker of things is this,” he says, waving a hand over an array of ingredients elegantly strewn across the kitchen counter. “Food is the most sensual act. All of your senses are at play.”
With food as an expression of his Jewish culture, it comes as no surprise that the holidays ring in lots of notable recipes. While not a traditional Jewish recipe, Mitchel names ricotta balls as his favorite holiday dessert. Referring to them as Pete Schweddy Ricotta Balls, he tells everyone in the room to look up the Alec Baldwin SNL skit in order to understand the reference.
“Wherever you’ve had your best thanksgiving, that experience takes place in the kitchen. I like when people are just hanging out right here,” he says, gesturing to the kitchen bar he’s standing behind. “It’s a pretty good spot.”
Mitchel understands hospitality and recognizes the value a casual setting and a good meal has in human connection. When he can, he forgoes the formal dinners and opts to cook a meal for his guests right in Tangram’s downtown showroom full-stocked kitchen—a kitchen that Mitchel personally ensured the new office would include for this very purpose. By doing this, he creates an intimate, interactive and relaxed setting that cultivates connection and community among those in the space.
“Most people haven’t had someone make a meal for them before. It shows a level of care,” says Mitchel. “You can’t get this experience in a restaurant.”
He sprinkles a pinch of salt over salmon, his favorite protein to prepare for guests, all the while explaining why kosher salt is the best for cooking.
“It has thicker granules so it’s harder to over-salt. Here, feel it,” he says, pushing the bowl towards one of his guests.
When he’s not cooking for clients, he’s cooking for his wife, Ingrid, and his two daughters, Isabella and Mikaela. In fact, it was Mitchel’s culinary zest that won his wife over when he prepared shrimp scampi for their first date.
“It takes 30 seconds to cook shrimp. I must have cooked that thing for 45 minutes. Ingrid never said a word. I had her at crappy shrimp,” he says matter-of-factly, as if this is his favorite story to share.
While not every meal is a success, the current one he’s wrapping up certainly smells like it is. By this time, an aroma of apples and cinnamons has filled the space, a sign that the meal is almost ready. Mitchel finishes plating the dish and calls over Tangram employees sitting at their desks, gesturing for them to join him and his guests in the kitchen.
“We all eat together. This is family meal time,” he says, wiping his hands on a tea towel. “Take your shoes off, have a cocktail, relax.”