2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Ari Taymor of Alma
952 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA
Growing up in Palo Alto, Ari Taymor ate a lot of fast food. In college he studied international affairs, dabbled in nutrition and public health, and flirted with the idea of medical school. By 21, he was a failed intern at Suzanne Goin’s Lucques. He planned never to cook professionally again. Five years later he opened Alma in Downtown Los Angeles, making waves that rippled throughout the national food scene.
Taymor’s five year transformation from failure to furor started in a community kitchen in Berkeley, where he got back to basics and got down to work. From there he joined the opening team at San Francisco’s Flour + Water and learned how to make pasta from StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Thomas McNaughton. After learning about Armand Arnal and La Chassagnette, Taymor called the restaurant repeatedly for six weeks. In April 2010, having finally gotten the answer he wanted from Arnal, Taymor left for a formative five-month stint at La Chassagnette. Upon his return, Taymor worked at Bar Tartine and later helped open Plate Shop in Sausalito with Kim Alter. He also counts Chef Jeremy Fox as a mentor. In 2012, Taymor opened Alma, complete with exclusive garden. It’s an 8-table example of how to inject genuine excitement into a jaded city. What’s your five year plan?
I Support: Alma Community Outreach Programwww.alma-la.com/philosophy.html
Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Ari Taymor of Alma
Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start?
Ari Taymor: I studied nutrition and public health after college, but I liked cooking by myself and bothered enough chefs to get a job.
AB: Do you have a mentor?
AT: Kim Alter. I learned a lot about how hard it is to do simple cooking.
AB: What’s the hardest thing you've had to do in your career?
AT: Opening this restaurant. We opened in an area with no foot traffic. We were about a year after Baco Mercat, but they're way on the other end of Downtown. L.A. is a really interesting place where people will go to one area, but not to the other—even if they're right next to each other. We were sandwiched between a hostess club and a marijuana dispenser when we first opened. We were dead slow when we opened. We used to do 15 to 20 covers per week for four to five months. We got our first round of reviews then slowly built momentum. After every review, we got a little busier. We plateau-ed in the summertime, and in August started hitting capacity every night.
AB: What made you come Downtown?
AT: This kind of food wouldn't work in L.A. It's a place where you don't have a set dining identity. I explored around the rest of the city, but here's a place where we could really do it. Other places we explored, I wasn't comfortable with the gentrification, with the hipsters coming in. Downtown has exploded. The Ace opened a month ago and along with that a line of retailers went in on this block. It has changed the entire culture. Everything about this area is completely different to what it was two years ago.
AB: What are you most proud of?
AT: Opening this restaurant. The way the staff has excelled and taken ownership of the restaurant. I never have to have conversations about cutting corners or having attention to detail. They're really taking ownership.
AB: What would you do over?
AT: Maybe I would have tried to spend more time working for someone else before cooking on my own. I never had management experience, handling people and learning on the fly.
AB: Favorite ingredient?
AT: Eggs. The versatility, the texture, as thickeners, for stocks, fried, poached, to enhance a dish.
AB: What’s your five-year plan?
AT: To be here.
AB: How do you go about finding talent?
AT: I’ve mainly been finding people through other people. A friend who has a knife store in Venice, John Dareda, sent me my CDC and sous chef. Lately, it's staff bringing in people who they think will be good here—both front and back.
AB: How are you involved in the culinary community?
AT: I like to eat other people's food. I run into people a lot at the markets and look at what they're getting. I try and be as supportive of everybody as possible, especially the younger generations. It's a really dynamic food scene and a lot of chefs have been supportive of us, so we really try to do the same. We take stages, high school interns, both in the garden and front-of-house and back. When ever we can, we do guest-chef dinners, bringing in other people who either do or don't have restaurants to do their thing. Generally, I try to live outside of all the negativity that can sometimes occur in this industry. Cooks can be crazy people, so there are a lot of people who get negative and jaded about it, and if you can not do that, it's really nice.