Grandma’s signature chicken noodle soup. Cotton candy at the state fair. Strawberry-picking in the summer. Foundational childhood experiences with food tie all of us to generations past and present and set the tone for how we think about eating and cooking for the rest of our lives.
But what kind of childhood memories spark not only a lifelong passion for good food but a career in the restaurant industry? We asked 3 Los Angeles chefs leading the farm-to-table movement about what early experiences were not only critical to shaping their philosophy towards food, but also served as the foundation for their careers.
The True Meaning of Fine Dining
Helene Henderson: Owner & Chef, Malibu Farm Los Angeles
(Photo taken by Julie Wuellner)
Growing up in the north of Sweden, with Vikings as her ancestors, Helene Henderson learned how to eat simply. Every day she, her mother, grandmother, and four sisters harvested, foraged, and fished as a family, cooking and eating whatever they had gathered.
“My grandmother would slowly walk into the forest with an empty bucket and return later with everything you could possibly need for an unforgettable midsummer feast,” Helene remembers.
With this image in mind, Helene found her own bucket – in the form of a cooler filled with food – and spent the next 20 years as a self-proclaimed “cooler” lady, carrying it everywhere for catering and private chef work. While she admittedly felt anything but “cool” during this period, Helene knew that as long as she had her bucket and a willingness to walk until she found her true path, she could create her own kind of magic and success.
Everything Helene cooks now, at home and as the chef at Malibu Farm, her popular farm-to-table restaurant on the Malibu Pier in Los Angeles, is a reflection of her childhood – fresh food, simply prepared. “In my heart, all I want are some newly harvested potatoes tossed in butter and oil, a little salt, the backdrop of forest and the glimmer of a nearby lake, and maybe some gravlax or small pieces of fish we caught and grilled,” Helene says. “No fancy china or plates, no glasses, no music, no crowds. Just the beauty of nature and someone who means something to you.”
Address: 23000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
Planting Seeds of Integrity
Makani Carzino: Owner & Chef, Pono Burger, Ultimate Burger, and Pono Kitchen & Bar, Los Angeles
(Photo taken by @makanilicious)
The food sustainability seed was planted within Makani at a young age. Growing up on Hawaii’s Big Island, her mother and father taught her the value of sourcing and eating local – from papayas to coconuts to freshly-caught fish, the island was bursting with delicious, healthy, and sustainable food. As time passed, this seed grew within her, watered by learnings from powerful women in the food community, including quantum physicist and food sovereignty advocate Vandana Shiva, and biodiversity and farm-to-table champion Alice Waters.
(Photo taken by @wonhophoto)
Now with three of her own restaurants and counting (two in Los Angeles), Makani combines her vision for healthy and sustainable eating with the Hawaiian concept of pono, which means to do things the right way or with integrity. Makani sources and buys the majority of her ingredients locally, supporting farmers not only in their responsible cultivation of the best seeds and the ingredients but their excitement and passion for feeding both their communities and the earth.
Address: 829 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tuning in to Her True Power
Erin Eastland: Executive Chef, Milo & Olive and Huckleberry
Erin can trace her love of cooking back to days spent in the kitchen with her mother – and watching Sara Moulton — chef, cookbook author, and host of several beloved Food Network cooking shows — on TV in the late ‘90s. As a young girl, Erin loved the simplicity of Sara’s recipes, perfect for learning to master her execution and then making her own creative adjustments.
Beyond simply helping Erin learn how to make the perfect pastry, however, Moulton also gave Erin the push she needed to actually enter into the often demanding and intimidating restaurant industry. “As a tiny woman [Moulton stands at only five feet tall] in a predominately male, ego-driven industry, I remember watching her on TV and thinking, ‘If she can do this, so can I.’” In Moulton, Erin not only saw a strong woman who had trained, studied, worked, and fought to get the role she wanted, but an open door to the life she wanted.
Milo & Olive
Address: 2723 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Address: 1014 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica CA 90401
Feeling inspired to try one of these restaurants? Order here! Want to find out where the 5 best burgers are? Read this blog post about where 5 local Los Angeles chefs go for the best burger in town.