Chef Ari Taymor of Alma restaurant is done talking about food. To Taymor,cooking is beyond the flavors served on a plate; he’s more concerned about the conversation happening over dinner, the labor practices behind the kitchen, and the zeitgeist of the restaurant industry. Jonathan Gold says Taymor “is cooking like no one else in LA,” and maybe this is because Taymor is more like a craftsman than an artisan. “I’m like a watchmaker or a carpenter,” he says. “It’s more important than just ideas and aesthetics. Like a piece of furniture, food needs to work.” And so does a restaurant.
The story of a little eatery in Downtown LA is already becoming a tragic legend in this metropolis’ culinary history: it started as a pop-up, then evolved into a brick-and-mortar sans any investors, and just as its greatness and acclaim began to reach heroic proportions, Alma disappeared. Bon Appetit named it Best New Restaurant in 2013, and the following year Food and Wine picked Taymor as “Best New Chef”. He received some of the most prestigious gastronomic accolades imaginable, but that was the moment that he felt the most hollow. “People just kept coming to the restaurant to check it off their list and take pictures of the food.”
After a business relationship soured, Taymor and co-owner Ashleigh Parsons launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for legal fees and keep the doors open. The drive raised over 48 thousand dollars, but Alma still had to close its doors in October of 2015. As a result of this confrontation, Ari has become battle-hardened. “It’s time to ask some challenging questions about the price of food,” he says. “Chefs are the new rock stars,” but the benefits aren’t trickling down to the cooks, busboys, and waiters. Taymor and Parsons have now returned to their roots, opening a pop-up restaurant inside the Standard Hotel in Hollywood, running until February. They’ll be picking some faves from the old menu and trying out some new ones. Out of Alma’s ashes, a tiny sprout has just emerged.
Photography: Trisha Angeles
Grooming: Barbara Yniguez
Special thanks to Sage