Little Foodie Club – Why I decided to launch a baby food company

I recently launched a baby food delivery company here in Los Angeles. Little Foodie Club is all about helping parents to palate-train their babies, teach them to love fresh, health and delicious food and raise the next generation of foodies. Here’s my story on why I have invested everything into trying to change the way babies eat.

LFC_Logo_printHave you ever wondered why French kids eat everything and American kids don’t? Why petit Jean will happily tuck into a plate of spinach and blue cheese salad topped with roasted duck breast but little Johnny won’t touch anything other than chicken nuggets? Why do some kids love to eat vegetables and are open to trying new foods while others turn their noses up at anything fresh, green and remotely exotic?

I have been working as a professional food writer for over a decade. As part of my job I’ve traveled and eaten my way around the globe and have been able to acquire an international perspective on food and food culture. Through this I have developed a deep love not just for learning about ingredients, dishes and flavors but also eating and more importantly cooking. Food is quite frankly the love of my life.

When my daughter Maxine was born, I was determined to pass my passion for food onto her. I knew first hand from friends and family that babies and kids can be really fussy eaters and it was my biggest nightmare to end up with a child who hates to eat good food. Wanting to instill in Maxine a love of healthy, delicious food and to raise an adventurous eater, I started doing research into how to bring up a child who truly enjoys eating. This is when I came across a concept called palate-training.

Kerstin_KuhnPalate-training basically means that during the first months of a baby eating solid foods we can train their palate and influence their future eating preferences. The way it works is that during these vital first few months the kinds of foods that babies are exposed to will be the kinds of foods they will like later on. So if you want your baby to grow up to love real fruits and vegetables and be open to trying new foods, you have to palate-train them with real fruits and vegetables and an evolving variety of tastes and textures right from the start. Through consistent exposure to different types of fresh foods you can influence your child’s “anatomic palate” and neurophysiology to love healthy and delicious foods.

On the flipside if you consistently expose your baby to foods out of a jar or pouch, you’re conditioning their palate to prefer processed foods. The purees out of jars and pouches have little or no resemblance in taste or texture to those made from fresh ingredients so it’s no surprise that babies who are exclusively fed these bland and often tasteless manufactured purees turn out to be fussy kids who refuse to eat real vegetables and demand processed foods like chicken nuggets.

So going back to those gourmet French kids – the reason they are such great eaters is because they are exposed to great food right from the start. French babies’ diets consist of lots of fresh produce, whole gains, meats and cheeses all with added herbs and spices and lots and lots of flavor. The same goes for other countries: In Vietnam, for instance, babies are served soups that are seasoned with fish sauce and bone broths, while in India babies are introduced to spices like coriander, turmeric and ginger from the age of six months.

yellowThese are flavors babies in America rarely get to experience. What I came to understand was that in American culture many of us underestimate babies’ taste preferences thinking they favor bland, tasteless food when other cultures so clearly show us that the exact opposite is true. I realized that if I wanted my daughter to become a great eater who not only loves vegetables but has a truly adventurous sense of taste, I had to be inventive with what I fed her.

Way before it was time to start solids, at about three months, I began to introduce Maxine to the smells and scents of food. I took her out into the garden and let her smell the different herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil and lavender or some of the spice jars in the kitchen like cinnamon or cumin to open up her senses to things to come. I carried her in a sling while preparing dinner, exposing her to the aromas of home cooking and explaining to her what the different ingredients were.

Maxi_happy_eaterWhen the time arrived for Maxine to start eating solids, I first introduced her to very simple vegetable purees such as zucchini, carrot and potato. I made my own fruit purees and it didn’t take long before I started to add a few herbs and spices to her food to liven things up. I added vanilla to peach, rosemary to butternut, turmeric to carrots. The more I cooked for Maxine, the more I got into making baby food, trying out different ingredient combinations and making my own bone broths to season some of her vegetable purees. I won’t lie, it was a lot of hard work but the more adventurous I became with my cooking, the more Maxine started to enjoy her food and mealtime was fun time in our home.

Eventually I started chatting to other mothers about what they fed their babies and many of them admitted to only buying the baby food from the shop. This was due to a number of different reasons: some moms just didn’t have the time to cook baby food, others lacked the inspiration and didn’t know what to cook, while still others said they’d tried and given up because their babies didn’t like it. A lot of them revealed that mealtime wasn’t a fun time in their home and that there were only a few things they could get their babies to eat. I’ll always remember one of my friends saying she was so desperate for her daughter to eat, she put apple sauce on everything as this was the one and only thing she liked. I realized how lucky I was to have a baby like Maxi who is such a good eater. But then I also realized that the reason she was such a good eater was because I had consistently palate-trained her right from the start.

905675_1523370517970589_8852142652319530545_oThis was my Aha! Moment, where I realized that palate-training really works and where the idea for Little Foodie Club began. I felt a real need to share my experience with other parents and enable those who weren’t able to cook their own baby food to still palate-train their babies and raise healthy eaters by supplying them with delicious fresh homemade baby food.

After months of research and menu development as well as getting all of the legal stuff like health permits in place, Little Foodie Club finally launched last month. It was a hell of a journey to get there but we are now delivering handmade, organic baby food all across Los Angeles. Some of our signature baby purees are: apples, pears and rooibos tea; baby Bolognese  (pictured) made with slow-cooked organic beef, vegetables and Italian herbs; lamb, potato, spinach and rosemary; and sweet potato and garbanzo bean curry with mild spices and coconut. Our simplest purees are not just vegetables: our carrot puree for instance is made with homemade chicken bone broth and has a hint of turmeric in it for added flavor; while cauliflower comes with a bit of pear and tarragon.

The idea is to provide healthy delicious food that will really open up a baby’s palate, get them used to a wide variety of different ingredients, herbs and gentle spices and inspire them to love fresh, healthy and delicious food right from the start.

Maxi_ThaiToday, Maxine is a toddler who loves to eat and is always open to trying new things. She doesn’t like everything but she’ll always give things a try. She’s now at an age where she can join us at the dinner table and thanks to her eating with us, we are eating a healthy, varied diet together as a family. Of course, there are days when I’d love to reach for the chicken nuggets but when I dare to serve her processed foods, she turns her nose up and demands something fresh and tasty. Like those French kids, her palate has been trained.

Meet Courtney Guerra, LA urban culinary farmer extraordinaire

IMG_1412In California farm-to-table dining is the mantra that governs gastronomy. A philosophy which Alice Waters began at Chez Panisse in 1971, with the then ground-breaking notion of embracing local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, it is a credo that continues to define California cuisine to this day. In Los Angeles Courtney Guerra has taken the idea of farm-to-table a step further. She’s not just farming, she’s urban culinary farming, growing produce and herbs for the kitchen of one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, Alma.

Guerra’s urban culinary farm is located in one of the most unlikely areas of LA, just off the busy Lincoln Boulevard in Venice. Set in a typical suburban street – aptly called Flower Avenue – it comprises an eclectic mix of raised beds, a makeshift greenhouse full of micro-herbs, and hydroponic grow towers sprouting salads. At the height of spring, Guerra’s farm is blooming in full force. As she guides me through her garden, picking flowers and leaves for me to taste and smell, she explains things with encyclopaedic knowledge. Red Malabar spinach is at the end of its season but still climbs up the wire fence on the edge of the property, while lettuces are growing, gherkins are flowering, and an assortment of fragrant herbs powerfully scents the air. Among a host of other things, Guerra grows rau ram, a Vietnamese coriander; za’atar, a Middle Eastern oregano; epazote, an aromatic Mexican herb; and Hyssop, a mountain herb, whose intense mint flavour shoots right up my nose.

IMG_1398For what Guerra farms for Alma are not the kinds of cultivars you’d find at the farmers market. It’s a collection of unusual herbs, a taste of the unfamiliar. “I made the decision very early on that I don’t want to compete with the farmers market, it’s just not possible for me to grow things in those quantities,” she insists. “What I do is much more esoteric; it’s there to be an added component to Alma’s menu development and brand, a part of its story.”

Blonde, tall, toned and tanned, Guerra epitomises the stereotype of the California beach babe. In fact she was a professional beach volleyball player for six years, touring the globe following university. “It allowed me to travel and see the world and after I was done playing I thought: ‘That was my one chance of doing something I’m truly passionate about.’” But after ending her volleyball career and going down the traditional route of getting an office job, Guerra quickly realised that sitting behind a desk from nine to five was not for her. She needed to find a new passion.

Her love of food and cooking, instilled in her by her late grandmother, inspired her to enrol in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in Napa Valley. “It was like Disneyland for chefs and foodies,” she recalls. During her studies, she worked in the kitchen and garden of Napa’s three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, which opened her eyes to the possibilities of culinary farming. And upon graduating in 2012, she knew she didn’t want to work as a chef: “I decided I wanted to move to LA and start a farm.”

Guerra rented the back studio of an old friend’s property in Venice, whose front yard was filled with junk. “He was a bachelor and hoarder,” she laughs. “I cleaned it all up, which was highly appreciated by the neighbours, and turned it into my urban farm.” She adds: “It was a huge risk – I’d put all my money into this project – and there were many moments when I was really scared of what I was about to do. But I absolutely had to give it a go because I felt so sure that I would find a chef, who would understand what I was trying to achieve and share my vision.”

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThat chef is Ari Taymor, who together with partner Ashleigh Parsons, opened Alma in Downtown LA at the end of 2012. “Ari and Ashleigh instantly got it,” Guerra says. “They had a very strong vision of what they wanted Alma to be and I fitted into that vision just as much as Alma fitted into mine.” The relationship between the urban culinary farm and restaurant began in January 2013 and virtually overnight Alma became a runaway success. Taymor’s inventive, ingredient-led cooking complimented by Guerra’s maverick approach to growing produce – best exemplified through Alma’s signature Flower Avenue garden salad (pictured) – turned the tiny 39-seat venture into the darling of LA’s restaurant industry. In August 2013, Bon Appetit crowned Alma the best new restaurant in America; in April 2014 Food and Wine named Taymor America’s best new chef; and this year, he was shortlisted for a James Beard Award. “The hype and huge success allowed us to really do what we wanted,” admits Guerra. “Now that things have calmed down a bit, we need to continue to push that creativity.”

Today, Guerra not only provides Alma with salad leaves, greens, micro-greens, edible flowers and herbs from her urban farm, she also spends one day a week foraging for herbs and coastal grasses on a 600-acre private ranch in Santa Barbara. “Foraging is a huge part of what I do and even more of an expression of what I want to do in the future,” she adds. Nature is what drives Guerra and her work is way more than a job to her. Next to farming and foraging for Alma, she also forms an integral part of the restaurant’s community outreach programme, which educates young kids at underprivileged schools across LA about gardening. She works with a family shelter in Santa Monica, advises Los Angeles Trade-Tech College’s culinary department on creating a farm-to-table curriculum, and has partnered with acclaimed Venice-based café Superba Food and Bread’s new event space, which has been designed around a farm. “I don’t want to believe in complete exclusivity [with Alma] because there is such a big need for what I do in LA,” she insists. “It would be selfish to keep it all to one restaurant.” She’s taken the farm-to-table philosophy and turned into an urban reality.

This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

LA’s top taco truck

TACO TRUCKS

food trucks in Venice BeachLos Angeles is the city of food trucks. There are literally hundreds of them roaming the streets each and every day and although their food offer is as diverse as the city’s population, ranging from German currywurst to Vietnamese banh mi, it’s the Mexican taco trucks that dominate the scene.

For in LA there are two very different tiers of food trucks: the up-market, social media-friendly trucks that charge a premium for their often chef-driven menus (think Roy Choi’s Kogi), and the Mexican loncheros, which set up shop on a daily basis, serving their local community the burritos, tacos, sopes, mulitas and quesadillas the city is fuelled by.

First launched to cater for construction workers, these taco stands can be found in virtually every neighbourhood across LA. In fact every person living in LA has a “local” – their own favourite taco truck (mine is Tacos Arizas), which loyally provides many Latino families with their nightly dinner and offers revellers a much needed snack in the wee hours after a night on the booze. With cheap, fresh and delicious food, taco trucks are a tasty alternative to the fast food giants that still govern LA’s casual restaurant industry.

LA TACO MADNESS

TACO-MadnessLA’s taco trucks are such a big part of the city’s cultural identity, every year there’s a dedicated event that celebrates them in all their glory. Since 2009, LA Taco Madness, organised by art and culture website LA Taco, has pitted some of the city’s best tacos against one another in a taco-tastic tournament.

The event’s committee of nine of the city’s best experts on tacos submits a list of their favourites, from which a shortlist is drawn. This year, organisers divided contestants into four categories according to the most popular ingredients: asada, pork, mariscos, and a wild card for all those that don’t quite fit into the first three.

The LA Taco Madness committee then cut them down to four in each category, with eight of them battling it out for the title in the 2015 LA Taco Madness final. More than 10,000 members of LA’s taco-loving public then voted for their favourite online.

GUERRILLA TACOS

sweetpotato_tacoThe 2015 winner was Guerrilla Tacos, a truck that serves a menu so innovative, revered LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold described it as “a kind of tasting-menu restaurant whose dishes happen to be composed on tortillas instead of on fancy plates”.

Led by chef Wesley Avila, who studied at the California School of Culinary Arts and trained under Alain Ducasse in Paris, his carefully sourced ingredients may include the likes of fresh sea urchin or scallops, alongside vegetables from the farmer’s market.

Tacos feature toppings such as braised oxtail and foie gras with pickled onions, almond chilli and coriander; oasted sweet potato with braised leek, Oaxacan cheese and red pepper chilli (pictured); or bacon with chili de arbol, scrambled eggs, fried Brussels sprouts and queso fresco.

With other dishes such as Hawaiian-style raw-fish poke with pickled pineapple, habanero, avocado and lime; or a burrito of braised lamb shank with root vegetables, feta cheese and tomato chilli, this truck’s menu may be a far cry from the traditional loncheros but it is certainly a worthy winner of this year’s taco truck of the year award, who really stands out from the crowd.

A Ducasse disciple cooking up a storm in a taco truck parked on a street corner? That’s something you will only find in LA.

This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

Grand Central Market – one of LA’s most historic and cultural gems

Grand Central MarketAt nearly 100 years old, Grand Central Market is one of Los Angeles’ most historic venues and cultural gems and a recent revival has seen it turn into one of the city’s culinary hotspots, too.

The 30,000sq ft market first opened in 1917 and has been in continuous operation since, reflecting Downtown Los Angeles’ ever-changing population. In the early days, vendors included the likes of green grocers, fishmongers, Jewish delis and butchers and over time, it became a popular destination for the city’s large Latino community, with Mexican food vendors and spice stalls joining the market.

In 1984, property developer Ira Yellin bought Grand Central Market with the aim of preserving this historic Downtown site and turning it into a vibrant, contemporary food spot. He passed away in 2002 and since then his widow Adele has continued to champion his vision.

In the past two years, Grand Central Market, much like the rest of Downtown LA, has seen a remarkable transformation. Less than a decade ago, it was mainly about tacos and fresh produce and, although authentic, it was a bit rough around the edges and not exactly a hang out for the food loving masses.

Today, more and more contemporary operators are joining the market, in a complete overhaul of its offering. Ranging from a BBQ restaurant to an artisan cheese vendor, hipster coffee shop, gourmet pizza place and a healthy juice store, what once was a destination for blue collar workers in search of a hearty lunch, the market now also draws in a crowd of suits from the nearby financial district and foodies from across town.

Some of the traditional operators – like the 56-year-old China Café, a handful of Latino vendors, a green grocer and two spice stores – remain but many have been replaced by an increasing number of modern concepts. While some critical voices argue that the gentrification of the market takes away its historic value, others insist the new wave of operators is giving those long-standing vendors exposure they would never otherwise have had, including a place in food mag Bon Appetit’s top 10 hottest restaurants in America.

What’s clear is that Grand Central Market is now more popular than ever before. Its rich diversity of food stalls epitomises Los Angeles as a whole and not only makes it a unique culinary destination but also the most fascinating of all the food halls in the USA today.

Here’s a highlight of some of my favourite Grand Central Market vendors.

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BelCampoBelcampo Meat Co.
A full-service butcher-shop-cum-restaurant serving 100% natural, organic, grass-fed meat and poultry raised on a 10,000-acre ranch in Northern California. All meat is butchered on site and what doesn’t sell, gets cooks up in the kitchen, meaning there’s virtually no food waste.
What to order: The cheeseburger is the pièce de résistance here: a patty made from dry-aged beef, served medium-rare and covered with caramelised onions and cheddar. At $12.50 it ain’t cheap but it’s worth every cent.

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EggSlutEggslut
This kiosk bills itself as a ‘chef driven, gourmet food concept’ that celebrates the humble egg. The ovo-centric menu takes classic comfort food and gives it a modern twist, including sandwiches on house-made brioche buns, burgers and salads. Eggs aren’t just for breakfast at this place but for lunch, dinner and any other time of day, everyday.
What to order:The namesake signature dish comprises a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with a demi baguette ($9). It’s an ingenious balance of comfort and innovation.

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McconnellsMcConnell’s Fine Ice Cream
Founded in Santa Barbara in 1949, McConnell’s makes its fine ice cream from scratch using the milk and cream from Central Coast grass-grazing cows, which it pasteurises at its own creamery. It sources local, sustainable and organic ingredients from farms and artisan producers and ice cream flavours range from chocolate covered strawberries, to sea salt cream and cookies, and toasted coconut almond chip.
What to order: Eureka lemon and marionberries is one of the most delicious flavours. Oregon marionberries are cooked to jammy perfection and folded into tart and tangy, Eureka lemon, milk and cream.

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Oyster_GourmetThe Oyster Gourmet
Run by Frenchman Christophe Happillon, who bills himself as Los Angeles’ only Master Ecailler (shellfish master), this is GCM’s most upmarket and unique venue. Serving sustainable seafood from around the USA, with a focus on oysters, it’s as much its menu as it is its unique design that draws in the punters. The 14-seat circular bar comprises a wooden structure designed to resemble a clam. Featuring canvas wings that can be pulled up and down, they create a sense of space and openness when up and completely close in the bar when down.
What to order: Oysters aside, the tuna poke is a must try. A generous portion of cubed raw tuna is seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce and chopped chillies and heaped on a scallop shell ($10). Paired with a cold glass of Sancerre, it’s heaven.

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StickyRice(1)Sticky Rice
This Thai street food concept was the first to join the market as part of the ascending wave of new operators. Sticky Rice, which started as a stand at the Altadena Farmer’s Market featuring food from chef Johnny Lee, is a counter worth sitting at both for the food and to watch the chefs in action in the tiny open kitchen.
What to order: Gai yang is the thing to order here, tangy Thai barbecued chicken is served with sticky rice and som tam, spicy green papaya salad ($9).

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Tacos_TumbrasTacos Tumbras a Tomas
One of the long-standing traditional vendors, Tacos Tumbras a Tomas has been run by Tomas Martinez and his brothers Manuel and Jesus for 20 years. The stall built its success on the famous fried pork dish of carnitas but also specialises in birria, goat served in a spicy red sauce. Other meats include carne asada, grilled chicken and carne al pastor, which are served in tacos, burritos, tortas, tostadas or in combination plates with rice and beans.
What to order: For $3 you get a vastly generous portion of carne asada piled on corn tortillas, with lime wedges and extra tortillas on the side. It’s greasy, spicy and fresh all in one mouthful.

This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

Chef profile: Timothy Hollingsworth

This is an extract from a posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

ThollingsworthHeadAmong the plethora of chefs in Los Angeles, Tim Hollingsworth is arguably the most talked about right now. The former French Laundry chef de cuisine, James Beard Award winner and Bocuse d’Or competitor has recently adopted the city as his new home and is starting to make waves on its dining scene.

Hollingsworth has teamed up with one of LA’s most celebrated restaurateurs, Bill Chait, and has not only opened a new barbeque spot that has impressed both crowds and critics, but he is also set to launch a modern American restaurant in one of the city’s most exciting new cultural developments next year. For when the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opens in Downtown LA next autumn, it will house not only close to 2,000 pieces of art, but a restaurant that will form the cornerstone of a brand new 24,000sq ft plaza that is set to revitalise a currently underused area.

Helmed by Hollingsworth the yet-to-be-named restaurant will be a partnership with Chait – whose group Sprout includes some of LA’s most iconic restaurants such as République, Bestia, Rivera and Sotto – and museum founder Eli Broad. Rory Herrmann, Thomas Keller alumni and former chef de cuisine of Bouchon in Beverly Hills, has signed on as director of culinary operations.

IMG_0028“It’s a really exciting project for me,” enthuses Hollingsworth. “I’ve been given the opportunity to have a free-standing restaurant in LA that I can design, build up and be an owner in. That’s not something that comes along very often.”

Although details are still scarce, Hollingsworth hints that the restaurant will be contemporary American, offering modern-day dining. “There won’t be tablecloths but there’ll be a big focus on the quality of the food, on the presentation of the dishes and there’ll be a great beverage programme,” he says. “It won’t necessarily be a casual restaurant but it’ll be approachable.”

With construction for the restaurant just starting to get underway and the opening date scheduled for July next year, Hollingsworth may be forgiven for taking it easy for a while. But that’s not his style and in the meantime, he has already opened another LA restaurant. This time it’s about him exploring his family roots by serving Southern barbecue fare.

Barrel and Ashes, which launched last month, sees the chef also collaborate with Chait and Herrmann, as well as acclaimed LA mixologist Julian Cox, who has designed a food-friendly drinks list, including a selection of whiskies and craft beers and cocktails. The restaurant in Studio City features picnic style seating on a front patio, communal and traditional seating inside, and additional Plaza rendering_view from restaurantseating on the rear patio where there’s a food trailer. The menu focuses on family-style service with daily specials and there are things like smoky Texas-style brisket, St. Louis pork ribs, and pulled pork with Carolina vinegar sauce, or fried chicken sandwich and smoked chicken wings. Sides are served in cast-iron skillets, filled with classics like shells ‘n’ cheese, long-braised collard greens, and “hoe cakes” with maple butter.
Inspired by Hollingsworth’s Southern heritage and his and Herrmann’s numerous barbecue excursions across the country, Hollingsworth says it’s a culinary departure for him in his career. “Barrel and Ashes is going from something that was fine dining and not very approachable to something that takes me back to my roots,” he says. “The recipes are from my mother and grandmother and the food reflects me as a person way more than anything I have done professionally before.”

Born in Texas, Hollingsworth moved to Northern California as a young child. He started his culinary journey aged 18 washing dishes at a local French bistro, an experience which he insists continues to help his career today. “How can I run a kitchen and train a dishwasher if I’ve never done that job? How can I respect that person who is the lowest but also one of the most important guys without having been in that position?”

He worked his way up through the ranks, learned the basics of classic French cooking and started reading the ”bibles of French cuisine” including Larousse Gastronomique; Antonin Carême and Auguste Escoffier. “At 19 I travelled to New York and ate at the best restaurants, including Le Cirque and Alain Ducasse at Essex House,” he recalls. “I spent five days at the Culinary Institute of America and realised it wasn’t for me. I decided I needed to go and work with one of the best chefs in the world – either Thomas Keller or Alain Ducasse – and learn on the job.”

Thomas and TimBack in California, he approached Keller about a job at the French Laundry. With no formal training and little experience but an abundance of determination, he persistently called the restaurant until he was eventually invited for a day’s trial. “After that I called and called again and finally I received a letter in the mail saying I’d been hired as a commis chef,” he says. Over the next 13 years, Hollingsworth rose up the ladder, working every station and spending the last four years effectively running the French Laundry kitchen as chef de cuisine.

Today he credits Keller with instilling in him a drive and ambition to constantly improve. “It’s a tough place to work. The standards are so high and every day you are expected to do something different, something better,” he says. “But it was a great place to work. [Thomas] gives you the freedom to do the food you want to do. He’s not the kind of person who watches over you all the time but lets you have your own successes and your own failures. He trains people to be chefs not cooks and allows you to be creative no matter what station you are working on.”

During his time with Keller, Hollingsworth was chosen to represent Team USA at the Bocuse d’Or, the world-famous cooking competition in Lyon, in 2009 where he placed sixth – the USA’s best result to date. “The Bocuse d’Or was really difficult,” he admits. “The pressure of representing America, having all these huge chefs around you and everyone expecting you to be successful because you come from the French Laundry where we don’t fail, it was really tough. But in retrospect I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to have done it.”

Hollingsworth left the French Laundry in 2012 and went on to consult on restaurant projects around the world, including in Lebanon and Korea. With the world as his oyster, why the move to LA? “I could easily have stayed in Napa or gone to San Francisco but it would’ve been too easy, too comfortable,” he says. “I wanted to move to a big city, where I’d be out of my comfort zone.

“LA is possibly the most exciting city for food in the US right now. You have a lot of young chefs IMG_0027moving here, there are a lot of restaurants opening and there are a lot of people doing great things. LA is a little bit behind the times and there’s a lot of room to educate people about food, which is exciting.”

Looking ahead to his Broad Museum restaurant project, Hollingsworth says it will cater for the typical LA diner of today. “We want to make it approachable for people on a daily basis, make it a neighbourhood restaurant where you don’t just go for a special occasion but a place where you can go any day of the week,” he explains.

The food, he adds, will be light and healthy. “I like to eat lighter. I don’t want to walk away from a restaurant and feel heavy. Yes, I love a great piece of grilled meat, but I also like a tartar of some sort on the menu, seafood that has been marinated and is bright, fresh and acidic. I know I have a delicate touch in my cooking and I want to make sure that I express this with the new restaurant.”

Chef profile: Nancy Silverton

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

Nancy Silverton by Tom CaltabianoWinning the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef award in the USA is much like winning the Chef Award at the Cateys in the UK. It’s a very big deal. The award is limited to an elite club of chefs who have truly made a lasting impact on their country’s culinary industry. So it’s refreshing to see that Nancy Silverton, chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant group Mozza, takes her recent award with a pinch of salt. “It’s funny because it’s not like the Olympics where you can really measure somebody’s performance. Sometimes I think it’s really arbitrary,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have won, of course. But it’s not like it has gone to my head or I thought: ‘Yes! Now I’ve finally made it.’ I have been in this business for a very long time and I think that’s probably part of why I won.”

With a career spanning more than 35 years, Silverton is only the fourth woman in the 25-year history of what are often called the Oscars of Food to win Outstanding Chef – the others were Alice Waters (1992), Lidia Bastianich (2002) and Judy Rodgers (2004). But even this achievement doesn’t seem to faze her much either. “Of course, it’s great but there just are fewer women than men running kitchens,” she insists. “What’s more interesting is that I am the first pastry chef to win it. Awards are not generally given to pastry chefs. Even in a large restaurant with a pastry department, those who run it are very rarely recognised.”

As far as pastry is concerned, Silverton is now widely considered the doyenne of her craft in the USA. Through her now iconic Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery, which both
opened in Los Angeles in 1989, she helped redefine the culture of bread baking in the country, and won the inaugural James Beard Foundation’s Pastry Chef of the Year award in 1990. This year, La Brea, which Silverton sold in 2001, remaining a consultant, celebrates its 25th anniversary and is one of the largest sellers of fresh bread in the USA, supplying grocery stores and restaurants nationwide. Silverton has published numerous books over the years and now runs the successful Mozza restaurant group together with partners, Joe Bastianich and acclaimed New York restaurateur Mario Batali, with outlets in California and Singapore.

PUT OFF BY PASTRY

But being a pastry chef wasn’t always Silverton’s chosen profession. After dropping out of college to pursue a restaurant career, she went to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu in 1977, which put her off her now beloved craft. “It was very different back then,” she recalls. “Ingredients weren’t great: a lot of stuff was frozen, a lot came from a can, nothing was seasonal or fresh and it was all about technique. “I didn’t do very well there and my worst subject was always pastry and they were kind of instrumental in my initial dislike of that part of the kitchen. They were so strict and every time I would question things – do I really have to put seven eggs in this, what if it’s too eggy? – I was always met with a stern ‘No!’ Pastry really scared me at first because there seemed to be no room for variation.”

Returning to Los Angeles, Silverton was hellbent on working at Michael McCarty’s acclaimed Santa Monica restaurant Michael’s, but to her dismay the only position available was as assistant pastry chef. In the hope of being moved, she took the job but under the tutelage of Jimmy Brinkley discovered that pastry didn’t have to be boring. “I was sold,” she beams, thinking back. “I was so lucky to work with such a young, genius pastry chef, who hardly ever measured anything. We made all these fun, interesting desserts and it was a real turning point for me.”

In 1980 she decided to embrace pastry and went to France to study at the École Lenôtre, run by famous French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, to hone her skills. On returning to
LA, she helped Wolfgang Puck to open Spago as executive pastry chef. “Spago had such a big national presence,” she says. “Everyone was talking about it. At that time LA was the place for restaurants.” After working at Spago for a few years and a short stint in New York, in 1989 together with ex-husband Mark Peel and partner Manfred Krankl she opened La Brea Bakery and six months later the Campanile restaurant adjacentto it. “It was a lot of juggling and looking back there were a lot of hard times,” she recalls. “I would work at the bakery from midnight to 8am, then sleep for three hours, work a little, nap a little, go back to do desserts at Campanile – it was crazy.”

But the hard work paid off and both bakery and restaurant became Los Angeles institutions for years to come. With authentic artisan bread noticeably absent in the USA at the time, Silverton began teaching herself the art of sourdough bread baking. She developed a baguette, rosemary olive oil loaf, olive bread, country white, whole wheat and dark Normandy rye. “There really wasn’t much going on with bakeries at that time. There were a handful in San Francisco and New York, but that was it,” she says.

Two years after opening La Brea, she moved the bakery to a much larger, fully staffed commercial site and split it off as a business separate from Campanile. “It became clear that the bakery could really be something,” she says. “My partner had the foresight to separate the two businesses because we knew one day someone would want to buy it.” That day came in 2001, when La Brea was sold to investors in a deal quoted as anywhere between $56m and $68.5m. Silverton continued to work at Campanile until 2005, when she split from ex-husband Mark Peel. Two years later she opened Mozza.

ONE-WOMAN MOZZARELLA BAR

Osteria Interior(1)

The inspiration for Mozza was a lunch that she served to famous San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower, who told her about Obicà, a mozzarella bar in Rome. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do in LA: find a tiny little space and run a mozzarella bar where I’d do everything myself.

She was backed by Batali, who had long rejected the idea of investing in a restaurant in Los Angeles, where “nobody eats after 9pm and everyone’s on a diet”, but who loved the
mozzarella bar idea and immediately came on board. Looking for the perfect site they found one that happened to have a pizzeria attached. And so the idea of opening a pizzeria as well as a mozzarella bar was born.

“We immediately split all of our ideas. In the pizzeria, it’s all about the pizza: we have salads and antipasti, but they’re on the side. In the osteria, it’s more about the pasta. We have a very traditional way of looking at this. Pasta is done so poorly in this country, so we really want to be as close to Italy as we can.” The menu includes garganelli with ragu bolognese; ricotta and egg ravioli with browned butter; corzetti stampati with eggplant, olives and fresh ricotta; orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard; and tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. Then there’s the mozzarella: burrata is served with Tsar Nicoulai caviar; with leeks and fett’unta; with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto; or with bacon marinated escarole and caramelised shallots. Bufala mozzarella comes smoked with prosciutto di Parma; with pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade and caperberry relish; or with jumbo asparagus, sieved egg and bottarga.

Her pizza meanwhile is widely considered among California’s best. “It’s not Neapolitan, nor is it Chicago or New York-style,” she says. “It’s a mix between the pizza bianca sold
around Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and [Phoenix chef] Chris Bianco’s pizza.” The dough rests 36 hours before being used, and includes rye flour and some malt, giving a crust both spongy and softly chewy inside with a crispy crunch on the outside.

Pizzeria Mozza has since expanded to Newport Beach and San Diego, and the Mozza trio opened an osteria and pizzeria at the 2,500- room Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in
2010. Silverton says they are planning to open a few more osteria/pizzeria outlets in Asia.

After 30-odd years in the industry, where does she continue to draw inspiration from? “The world of food really inspires me, whether it’s an ingredient or something I eat,” she says. “But my way of cooking has never really changed. I have always been very interested in fresh, seasonal ingredients. I have never been interested in manipulating food or cooking with toys. My philosophy is that when you compose a dish you have to have the ability to edit it. I’ve always been an editor and I know intuitively when a dish is lacking or when the lily is being gilded. You’ve got to have that balance.”

LA restaurant review: Maude

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

MaudeAn Aussie chef, who’s become a household name in the US for a TV show on which he picked people up in supermarkets and cooked their dinner, Curtis Stone seemed an unlikely candidate to open Los Angeles’ next top fine dining restaurant. But with Maude, his intimate 25-seat “passion project” in Beverly Hills, he has done just that.

Last month named Los Angeles’ best new restaurant in 2014 by LA Weekly and Restaurant of the Year by Eater LA, Maude presents a unique approach to its tasting menu only concept. For each month, Stone chooses a “seasonal hero”, a single ingredient that drives the entire menu, from first bites right through to desserts. “My hope is for my guests to leave loving and appreciating the ingredient and its extraordinary versatility,” the chef explains.

Curtis StoneAfter starting his cooking career in Melbourne, Stone moved to London in the 1990s to work with his culinary idol, Marco Pierre White. He spent eight years with White, starting at the Grill Room at Café Royal, before moving to Mirabelle and finally being appointed head chef at Quo Vadis, where he gained three AA Rosettes. A move back to Australia, where he hit TV screens with a series called Surfing the Menu, saw him snapped up by US TV producers and over the last eight years, he has become one of the USA’s best known television chefs, who’s appeared on numerous shows, published books and launched his own cooking range.

But despite the fame and fortune, what Stone wanted most was to cook in his own restaurant and in February this year, he opened Maude. Named after his Australian grandmother, it pays homage to the woman who first inspired Stone to cook. Old Windsor chairs and antique plates and cutlery, meticulously sourced from flea markets, are nods to his granny’s style, while the open kitchen, blue leather banquettes and dark stone countertops add a contemporary touch.

The menu offers nine to ten courses with one seasonal ingredient creatively woven throughout. In July that ingredient was berries, in August it was corn, in September tomatoes, and in October it was pears. Come November, Stone will have moved on to truffles before concluding the year in December with winter squash.

Food Maude “We change the menu completely every month. We have a structure to how it progresses but the actual dishes are totally different,” says Stone. Indeed his menu builds up, with each course becoming bigger than the previous one both in size and flavour, each featuring the special ingredient – sometimes as the star of the plate, and sometimes merely as a subtle garnish.

Last month’s pear-themed menu (priced $85 (£53), plus $55 (£32) with paired wines) began with a selection of snacks – oysters with pear granita, crispy chicken skins and pretzel with pear mustard – before the first course: a salad of pear and variations of beetroot, goat curd, goats cheese rolled in hay ash and hazelnut.

The salad was followed by a soup of pear and smoked celeriac, an ingredient not often found on California menus. “Celeriac is such a beautiful ingredient but it gets lost here,” Stone says. “We get it from the high desert, where there’ll be snow soon. That’s the beauty of the climate here: it’s so diverse.” The soup – served whipped from an iSi canister – beautifully combined the sweetness of the pear with the earthiness of the smoked celeriac. Extra texture came with celeriac crisps, while a garnish of wood sorrel foraged from Stone’s garden, added a note of citrus and freshness.

Building up to the heavier meat dishes, next up was a tuna crudo served with sweet and spicy kimchi with a subtle hint of pear, a forbidden rice cracker and seaweed; before the next course of pig’s head terrine. “That dish has definitely been influenced by my time with Marco,” Stone explains. “The utilisation of the cheaper cuts is not something LA diners are used to but it’s such beautiful meat.” The terrine was caramelised and served warm, with parsnip, parsnip toffee and raw pear. Next up was a guinea hen raviolo filled with a mousse made from the breast and confit of the leg, accompanied by a sweet pear cider sabayon, Swiss chard and a lightly pickled Tokyo turnip.

Onto puddings and a pre-dessert of cheesecake with raspberry coulis and pear ice cream set the tone for the main attraction: stout poached pear with roasted peanut foam, dark chocolate and panna cotta, a deliciously indulgent end to the meal.

“Maude is a passion project that gives me the creative fulfilment I had been craving,” concludes Stone. He has indeed returned to his fine dining roots and proved to even his fiercest critics that he’s not just a face off the TV. He can cook, too.

Maude
212 S Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills
CA 90212
(+1) 310 859 3418
mauderestaurant.com

California welcomes two new three-Michelin-star restaurants

Michelin_SF_coverMichelin last week announced its new star selections for Northern California and in an unprecedented move elevated two restaurants to its coveted three-star-status.

Benu and Saison in San Francisco have risen from two to three stars in the 2015 guide to San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country, making them the only restaurants in the city to achieve Michelin’s top accolade. They join Thomas Keller’s world-famous French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood, both in Napa Valley, in California’s three-star echelons.

Benu, which opened in 2010, is run by chef Corey Lee, a Keller alumnus, who was praised by Michelin for his “incredibly precise culinary technique”. His cooking combines classic French techniques with American and Asian, particularly Korean, flavours. Stand out dishes include his 1000-year-old quail’s egg (pictured) with potage and ginger, while his tasting menus showcase ingredients such as eel, sea cucumber, sweet shrimps and mock shark fin.

Fellow new three-star Saison’s success story has seen the restaurant grow from a weekly pop-up at the back of a café in the Mission District to one of the USA’s most celebrated restaurants, which was named the One to Watch on this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Joshua Skenes offers thrilling tasting menus of exquisite and meticulously sourced ingredients with a nod to both French and Japanese cuisines and a “mastery of the northern California culinary philosophy”.

Meanwhile Italian restaurant Acquerello was the only new addition to the two-star list, making its chef, Suzette Gresham (pictured), San Francisco’s second female chef with two stars after Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn. Michelin commended Gresham’s cooking for its “refined and elegant dishes of superb Italian cuisine with a unique contemporary touch”.

There were two new entrants in the one-star category: Kusakabe and Maruya, which are San Francisco’s first and only Michelin-starred starred sushi restaurants.

Interestingly chef David Kinch retained his two Michelin stars at Manresa, despite being forced to close his restaurant after a devastating fire in July. Manresa is set to reopen towards the end of the year. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famous restaurant in Berkeley has still not regained the star it lost in the 2011 Michelin guide.

Northern California now has four three-Michelin-starred restaurants – the same as the UK – as well as six two-star and 30 one-star establishments. The 2015 San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country guide lists a total of 474 restaurants featuring 46 different cuisines.

Commenting on the results, Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides, said: “With two new three-star restaurants recognised, this 2015 edition reflects Northern California’s remarkable gastronomic energy. The San Francisco Bay area is among the most exciting culinary scenes in the world. Californian chefs are mixing their exacting cooking techniques with superb local ingredients and culinary influences from all parts of the globe. The result is a rich, dynamic and unique dining scene.”

NO STARS IN LOS ANGELES

Curtis StoneLos Angeles, meanwhile, remains off Michelin’s radar after it famously axed its guide after just two years in 2009, with former director Jean-Luc Naret claiming that there was no real appreciation of food in the city.

It’s sad to see that Michelin’s lack of recognition of LA’s thriving food scene continues despite many of its chefs and restaurants – including Nancy Silverton, Alma, and Bestia – having won national plaudits.

A number of LA chefs have expressed dismay at Michelin’s absence, including
Josiah Citrin, whose restaurant Mélisse in Santa Monica, held two stars in the LA guide. He said: “I wish Michelin would come back; I don’t understand why they left. We had more one- and two-star restaurants than Chicago. Instead of just doing the Bay Area, they should do a California guide – it would make sense.”

Curtis Stone (pictured), chef proprietor of Maude in Beverly Hills, added that it’s “a real shame” that the guide is no longer in LA. “Michelin is brilliant in its consistency, which is why they have the credibility that a lot of the other guides lack,” he said.

“A lot of young chefs spend their lives revolving around that guide. For me working at the Oak Room when it had three stars was the pinnacle of my life at the time. Maybe we chefs get too caught up in it so perhaps it’s a good thing not to have the pressure of having Michelin here. But I’d really love it if they came back.”

Here’s the full list of starred restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area & Wine County for 2015:

THREE STARS:
Benu (new)
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Saison (new)

TWO STARS:
Acquerello (new)
Atelier Crenn
Baumé
Coi
Manresa
Quince

ONE STAR:
All Spice
Ame
Auberge du Soleil
Aziza
Bouchon
Boulevard
Campton Place
Chez TJ
Commis
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Gary Danko
Keiko à Nob Hill
Kusakabe (new)
La Folie
La Toque
Luce
Madera
Madrona Manor
Maruya (new)
Michael Mina
Plumed Horse
Solbar
Sons & Daughters
SPQR
Spruce
State Bird Provisions
Terra
Terrapin Creek
The Village Pub
Wakuriya

This article was first published by The Staff Canteen as part of my monthly series on LA-related food stories.

A chef’s tour of the Santa Monica Farmers Market

This is an extract from a posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

Two-Michelin-starred chef Josiah Citrin of Mélisse gives us a tour of the famous Santa Monica Farmers Market, where he and his team of chefs go each week to buy the fresh produce for his kitchen

Josiah Citrin_CharlesPark“It’s always the best time to come here,” enthuses Josiah Citrin as we peruse the aisles of the Santa Monica Farmers Market. “The seasons here are always great and we’re so lucky to live in this climate. Our produce is the best in the world.”

Citrin, the chef patron of acclaimed French restaurant Mélisse, is giving me a tour of the famous market, where he and his team (as well as countless other LA chefs) come to shop for their kitchen. As we wander along the colourful stalls, taking in the scents and tastes of their rich and diverse bounties of organic fruits and vegetables, herbs, baskets of flowers and freshly baked breads, the chef gets visibly excited by what he sees.

“You have to taste these figs,” he exclaims, practically shoving one in my mouth. The Violette de Bordeaux figs from J.J.’s Lone Daughter Ranch are incredible, with their rich pulp tasting just like strawberry jam. “They’re so good we serve them with duck, just like that. You don’t need to do anything with them.”

Josiah_CitrinNext I’m given a small black fruit to taste. “Take a bite out of it,” Citrin orders. It turns out to be an avocado – a Mexicola Grande avocado to be precise. Its black, soft, thin skin is edible while the pale green flesh underneath is unbelievably buttery and nutty. “They’re amazing, huh? You can eat them like an apple,” the chef smiles.

As the largest grower-only certified market in Southern California the Santa Monica Farmers Market is a true institution, which has attracted food enthusiasts and chefs alike for more than three decades. Citrin has been coming here for as long as he can remember as inspired by his mother, who was a caterer, he became interested in food from a young age. “The market hasn’t changed in 30 years, it’s always been the same. It’s just that a lot more chefs come to shop here now,” he says.

After graduating from Santa Monica High School, he moved to Paris to explore his French roots and learn about the art of French cuisine while working at Parisian restaurants Vivarois and La Poste. “It was a different time back then and I learned so much about produce, bread and French cooking, technique, dining and things that 25 years ago weren’t part of our culture over here,” he recalls. He returned to the USA in 1990 to work at some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main, Patina and Pinot Bistro with chef-restaurateur Joachim Splichal and Jackson’s in West Hollywood, before launching his first restaurant JiRaffe in 1996 together with childhood friend and fellow chef Raphael Lunetta. Three years later he sold his interest in the restaurant to Lunetta to open Mélisse in the heart of Santa Monica in July 1999.

Over the years, Mélisse has developed into what is arguably Southern California’s most acclaimed French restaurant. It was one of just three establishments to debut with two stars in Michelin’s now discontinued guide to Los Angeles in 2008 and in the age of the casualification of the restaurant scene, it remains a bastion of fine dining in the city.

Citrin has made a name for himself with his contemporary American cuisine with French influences in style and technique. “My philosophy is finding the best possible ingredients and doing only what’s necessary to keep them great while still providing a dining experience that is interesting and fun,” he explains. “We use modern techniques and combine them with tradition. We try to hit a factor of deliciousness and craveability – food that you want to eat again and again.”

Lobster BologneseServing different tasting menus – ranging from a four- to a 10- and a 17-course menu as well as a five-course vegetarian tasting menu – signature dishes include the egg caviar, a delicately soft poached egg served with lemon-chive crème fraîche and Osetera caviar; and the iconic lobster bolognaise with fresh capellini pasta, a reduction of tomatoes, beef, veal and lobster stock finished with chopped lobster, truffle, three types of basil and finished off with a brown butter truffle froth.

There is also an entire section of the menu dedicated to tableside dishes such as a whole almond crusted Dover sole, rotisserie chicken stuffed with summer truffles, and a 35-day dry-aged côte de boeuf roti. “We’re not a classic French restaurant but we do things that are old school. I like to keep certain traditions in place – it’s important,” the chef says. However, Citrin’s tasting menus are a far cry from traditional French fare, using contemporary cooking methods and embracing the fantastic ingredients California’s larder is so renowned for. His food is market-driven, light and vegetable focused. “When you have produce like we have here, your cooking evolves,” he insists. “We’re not so reliant on sauces or proteins for instance because the vegetables are just as exciting.”

Melisse_Shopping_CartBack at the market we continue from stall to stall picking and tasting things as the Mélisse shopping cart gradually fills up with Jerusalem artichokes, fingerling potatoes, lettuces, herbs, finger limes, strawberries, carrots, beans and more. Citrin selects heirloom, pineapple and cherry tomatoes from Nunak Farm for a salad served with burata, basil, fennel, sweet onion and aged balsamic; and mandarin cross tomatoes from Carpenter Farms in Santa Paula. “The mandarin cross is an incredibly creamy tomato; we make a soup out of it with summer zucchini and squash, which we serve with a tomato sorbet,” he says.

From Weiser Family Farms, he buys trumpet squash and lavender-coloured Rosa Bianca aubergines, which he’ll transform into a sublime dish of tromboncini squash alla melanzane for his vegetarian tasting menu (see recipe); and we sample sweet Concord grapes, individually hand-picked at Murray Family Farm in Bakersfield, which he will serve simply as part of the the petit fours.

“All the farmers are my favourites,” Citrin concludes. “It’s all about their passion for me. If people bring their passion to you it makes your work so much more exciting. That’s what it’s all about.”

My favourite restaurants in Los Angeles

After a year in LA and plenty of brunches, lunches and dinners out on the town, I thought I’d share with you my favourite restaurants in my new adopted home city.

These are restaurants I go to frequently. They’re not upmarket or temples of fine dining but casual, neighbourhood joints I like to return to again and again because they offer great food, friendly service and a fun atmosphere at a price that even a freelance journalist can afford on a regular basis.

There are plenty of other amazing restaurants in the city and this is not intended as a definitive guide to eating out in LA. These are (in alphabetical order) a few of the restaurants I’ve personally come to love. I hope you like them too.

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BarbrixBarbrix, Silver Lake
I wish every neighbourhood had a restaurant like Barbrix. It’s a relaxed and casual place with charming hospitality, a smart wine list that won’t break the bank, and a menu of excellent small plates inspired by the flavours of the Mediterranean. I’ve come here for hangover curing brunch with bottomless $5 mimosas and fried chicken sandwiches; a bottle of Nebbiolo with cheese and charcuterie at the bar; and romantic dinners on the patio with a delicious selection of sharing plates ranging from smoked trout crostini with mascarpone, pickled red onion and lemon; pork and ricotta meatballs in tomato sauce; or one of the excellent fresh pastas ( a favourite is the pappardelle ragu with variations of duck, veal or wild boar). I love Barbrix because it’s the perfect venue for any occasion.

Barbrix
2442 Hyperion Avenue, Silver Lake
+1-323-662-2442
barbrix.com
@barbrix

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BestiaBestia, Downtown
Housed in a former warehouse in the Arts District, Bestia is one of LA’s most celebrated restaurants and for good reason: it’s the kind of place where you can sit for hours and eat everything off the menu and not have a single bad dish. Chef Ori Menashe serves up his clever and delicious interpretation of Italian food, including a hefty dose of offal, with things like grilled lamb heart and pan-roasted chicken gizzards. He makes pretty much everything in house and his charcuterie and sourdough bread are some of the best in LA. He also makes his own pasta, with at least 10 different varieties on the menu, ranging from squid ink to pistachio, saffron and stinging nettle. The wine list is equally interesting, with lots of unusual and natural wines. Bestia brings together smart yet rustic food, a sophisticated drinks list and a vibrant atmosphere. What more could you possibly ask for in a restaurant?

Bestia
2121 East 7th Place, Downtown
+1-213-514-5724
bestiala.com
@bestiaDTLA

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FigaroFigaro Bistrot, Los Feliz
The Louis Vuitton ad starring Madonna was shot at this local bistro, which is a little piece of Paris in the heart of LA and where I go when I need a dose of European lifestyle. The Parisian fin de siècle décor, with a zinc bar and red banquettes, and small tables on the pavement outside transport you straight to the Boulevard Saint-Germain. It is the ideal place for people watching and spotting the odd celebrity trying to look normal. I’ve spent whole afternoons here over a few carafes of rosé. The menu of classical French fare doesn’t mess around: think croque monsieur; salad Niçoise; escargots; moules frites; and coq au vin, while croissants, pains au chocolat, baguettes and macarons are baked fresh each morning in the adjoining bakery. Je l’adore.

Figaro Bistrot
1802 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz
+1-323-662-1587
figarobistrot.com

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GjelinaGjelina, Venice
This is not a restaurant for indecisive people as everything on the menu sounds amazing – and it is. The thin-crusted pizzas from the wood-burning oven are what Gjelina is most famous for but they’re not your usual pepperoni or Margherita and offer inventive California style combinations like nettles, garlic confit, chilli, Fontina and Parmesan; or cherry tomato, squash blossom and burrata. But there’s more: the kitchen’s creative genius embraces farm-fresh ingredients, with a sublime selection of vegetable dishes – like roasted white aubergine with walnut, sumac and cumin goat yogurt; or crispy purple potatoes with lemon aioli, pickled red onion, dill and horseradish – and bigger plates like crispy Mary duck confit, brown butter, haricot verts, smoked almond and sherry. The queue to get in can be long but it’s always worth the wait.

Gjelina
1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice
+1-310-450-1429
gjelina.com
@Gjelina

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Malinu FarmMalibu Farm, Malibu
Located on the edge of Malibu Pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this is where I go when I need to get away from it all and feel like I’m “on vacation”. The simple café menu has a focus on local and organic ingredients fresh from the farm. I’ve only ever come here for brunch when the menu includes the fried egg sandwich on toasted sourdough with bacon, rocket and baby potatoes; the multigrain pancakes with bacon bits and maple syrup; or the farm scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and ricotta. The vibe is relaxed and bohemian, both elegant and rustic bringing a sense of country living to the beach. It’s not cheap at $20 a head for breakfast but the food is good, the view is even better and the feeling of being on holiday is priceless.

Malibu Farm
23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
+1-310-456-1112
malibu-farm.com
@Malibufarm

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SageSage Organic Bistro, Echo Park
A year ago, when I was still living in London, I never would have dreamed that one of my favourite places to eat at could ever be a vegan restaurant – even one that’s co-owned by actor Woody Harrelson. Maybe they put something in the water here in LA but I genuinely love Sage Bistro and come here about once a week for my fix of kale, quinoa and dairy free ice cream. They have salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, pastas and tacos and none of it is boring or bland. I love the goatless Greek salad with massaged kale, quinoa, carrots, cucumbers, spicy cabbage, tomatoes, onion, avocado, apple, kalamata olives and raw dill cheese and cashew alfredo; and their banana split with Kindkreme vegan ice cream seriously rocks my world. Don’t judge me man, vegan food can be awesome.

Sage Organic Bistro
1700 Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park
+1-213-989-1718
sageveganbistro.com
@SageVegan

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TerroniTerroni, Beverly and Downtown
The best Italian fare my food loving Italian friends from San Francisco have had since moving to California a decade ago, Terroni serves hands down the best (and possibly the only authentic) Neapolitan pizza in LA. Crispy and thin it is comes as a standard Margherita or with imaginative toppings like the Polentona with fontina, speck and pinenuts; or the C’t Mang, a white pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, fresh pears, walnuts and honey. There are plates of San Daniele prosciutto or cured duck with vegetables and burrata; divine fried zucchini flowers stuffed with herbed ricotta; and a fabulous array of home made pastas. The wine list is indulgent and not cheap but the sommelier has on more than one occasion let us have a glass of something that’s usually only served by the bottle.

Terroni
7605 Beverly Boulevard, Beverly; and 802 S Spring Street, Downtown
+1-323-954-0300
terroni.com

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