A YEAR AND AWAY: ALMA’S ARI TAYMOR

text MICHAEL FRANCESCONI
photo RACHEL MANY

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After a slow start that saw the brink of closure, Alma, the first brick-and-mortar from 28-year-old Ari Taymor, has surged to the front of LA’s chef-driven must-try list. A mountain of recent press and praise from foodies alike has the restaurant poised to be one of the most sought after seats in 2014. LAC sat with the young chef to review the year gone by and look at what’s ahead.

A year ago you said: “We’re looking to do everything the right way. From the way we build To the ingredients we use. To the way that we treat our staff. We’re looking to do something different.” Any update?
You know, I’m really happy with the way those things are going. With the success of the restaurant, we’ve been able to move closer to those ideals—in terms of compensating staff, growing our own food, working with individual farmers, cooking unique, delicious food.

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You’ve been open for a year. You’ve been in LA for two. Thoughts on Los Angeles?
Truthfully, I love it. The markets are the best in the country. The produce here is untouchable. I’ve said that it’s hard to do conceptual food here, but we’re here because we have the best product and it allows us to the cook the best tasting food.

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Will you elaborate on conceptual food?
We’re not necessarily cooking from a regional background. Conceptual cooking is trying to bring the essence of some dish you had in Italy or France or Spain into the kitchen. Personally, I have these memories and emotions that I want to articulate through food, and Alma is my venue to do that.

What made you start cooking?
I went to Atera in New York where Matt [Lightner] was serving a beet ember I think they cooked for thirty-six hours. And you look at it and think ‘this is a beet’ but everything that went into it, the way it was eventually dressed and plated, made it taste more than of itself, like the platonic ideal of what a beet should be. When I experienced cooking that made food taste more like itself than it would normally, I realized I had to do it for a living.

Speaking of hyper-realized food, you have to explain your lament of the Cronut.
[Laughs] Look somebody spent all this time and care to make this thing that hasn’t been made before. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s original. If people can use that to articulate something else, and make something that’s equally beautiful and original and delicious, then that’s great, but you can’t just take things from people like that. There’s no copyright on it, but that’s intellectual property. There’s borrowing and there’s chefs sharing things with each other, but I don’t hear anyone thanking Dominique Ansel for making this thing we’ve all been inspired by. They’ve just hacked together a crude copy. It doesn’t seem fair when you consider he probably spent a couple of years perfecting it. What I’d love to see in LA is less of that and more people looking inside and deciding how they can express LA and what we do here and what we love.

Is there anything indicative of LA cuisine yet?
I think it’s still so open. The pervasiveness of second and third generation guys that are straddling both worlds—between immigrant parents and a modern California culture—and are finding authenticity in their cooking without looking for it are going to be big shapers of defining LA cuisine. I guess it’s going to be very personality driven.

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Is Alma personality driven?
I don’t think Alma is necessarily about me, Ari. I think it’s more about the memories and emotions that I try to convey to people, the care I show to the staff, the sourcing, the preparations. I think those are things I could eventually instill in a chef de cuisine and no longer be here and Alma could exist and succeed.

Are you working on anything else?
I would love to get the support to turn this into a prix-fixe restaurant. As we grow to utilize the garden more, the easiest way for us to use 100 percent of the vegetables is to have a more focused menu. But that requires trust—guests coming in and feeling comfortable, giving up total control. And I think in LA that’s a little more difficult than it is other places. And that trust takes time. This restaurant is 20 percent of where it could be. We can get so much better. So much more refined.

 

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Goals for the next year?
Be full every night. Continue to grow the staff and give them a bigger voice. Continue growing our social and community outreach. I want more time to do research, to discover how to better articulate through cooking. You know, really, to just keep making better food.

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Alma Restaurant
952 Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
alma-la.com

RECAP: LA TIMES’ THE TASTE FESTIVAL

On a hot summer’s day an outdoor food festival complete with cool drinks is a welcome respite. But this isn’t any plain old food festival, it’s The Taste, one of LA’s premiere food adventures. Set on the Paramount lot, nothing could be more quintessentially Hollywood than this ode to food and drink, particularly since the backdrop street is… Brooklyn? Leave it to LA to have our own city’s top-notch food festival in a fake (yeah, I said it, FAKE) East Coast city’s backdrop. We can be or do anything, so don’t mess with us. We are farm-to-table, Izakaya, California-French fusion. Got a problem with it? Call our agent.

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Now back to the action that made up The Taste Festival last weekend. “Field to Fork” was the first event with Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons. Cooking demonstrations focused on sustainable seafood and featured noted chefs such as Ari Taymor of Alma and Michael Cimarusti of Providence fame. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Gold, of the LA Times, hosted “Flavors of LA,” the first evening’s event, co-hosted by Sang Yoon, the creator of Father’s Office and LukshonDiscussions (and samples!) of the growing pop-up restaurant culture were covered, as were cooking demonstrations from some of LA’s hottest up and coming chefs.

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Vendors hawked their goodies, everything from sausages to watermelon slaw. Two days and two nights of food frenzy and enough alcohol to keep one forgetting about the scorching heat.  Who knew there could be so many iterations of wine cocktails out there? Wineries such as Jacob’s Creek and Cupcake served up iced concoctions of their well-received white blends. Can I say that Cupcake Wines wasn’t the only vendor sloughing out cupcakes and can I say I am over the cupcake? Can we move on? How about a Cronut or a Fonut? Or a gluten-free, dairy free, date-nut, acai, antioxidant puff? You know, something Gwynenth Paltrow might eat a crumb of? And make it tasty. This is a LOS ANGELES food festival isn’t it?

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The gems of the event seemed to be some of the smaller restaurants that knew making a name for themselves here could mean a boon for business. L & E Oyster Bar came out with guns blazing: mountains of ice and pounds of oysters from around the country. Wagyu Beef by Gottsui was both smoky and satisfying. Surprisingly, Ramen from Jinya Ramen was so tasty that ninety degree weather couldn’t stop them from running low on their superb broth. And nothing like The Counter’s deviled eggs, shredded in cheddar, mustard, mayo, paprika & topped with parsley and bacon to keep your tastebuds coming back for more.

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Not to be outdone, an entire bar featuring beers from Belgium stole the show. High end sponsors like STK and BOA Steakhouse drew lines for mouthwatering sliders and filet mignon.

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Sunday’s festivities covered more family-friendly fair, dubbed the “Labor Day Block Party” and co-hosted by Noelle Carter and Nancy Silverton. The most meat-heavy day, event-goers could also fill up on everything from fresh made guacamole, bratwurst, or octopus ceviche. Not to leave the kiddos out, the paramount lot was filled with bubbles, face-painters, and balloons. If you still had room, or like us were willing to continue out of the goodness of your heart and not wanting to leave anyone out, ice cream sandwiches beckoned, as did more cold beer.

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The final night was “Cocktail Confidential” hosted by LA Times Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock, Destination Cocktail columnist Jessica Gelt, and mixologist Matthew Biancaniello. All in all, a food lover’s dream complete with the little guys and big guys all in the trenches showing LA what they’ve got. LA’s got a lot to be proud of and the spectacular food and drink made this event one not to be missed!

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All photos provided by Supper For One and Ben Hunter for Life & Thyme