2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Sustainability Chef Miles Thompson of Allumette
1320 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Miles Thompson has been cooking for as long as he can remember, starting alongside his parents and getting his first kitchen job as a 13 year old. At the party of a family friend, Thompson was taken aback by the food—the salt levels, the acids—opening his mind to the world beyond home cooking. Thompson asked the caterer, Charlotte Berwind, for a job, and she put him to work washing dishes. After two years, he graduated to the line and catered parties and weddings for the next four years.
Making a big move west, Thompson came to Los Angeles to act, but what he got was a job on the line at Nobu working with Chef Alex Becker, from whom he learned patience and how to focus under pressure. He then joined the kitchen crews at Animal and Son of a Gun. When the desire to express his own culinary vision became too much, Thompson started a “residency” at Bill Didonna and Charles Kelly’s Allston Yacht Club, which led to them backing his first restaurant, Allumette. There, Thompson has a clear mission: to be a true California chef and restaurant, one that celebrates sustainability and the products and people that make his work possible.
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Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Sustainability Chef Miles Thompson of Allumette
Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start?
Miles Thompson: I always cooked, so did my parents. I started getting really interested in food, and I went to a party that my Mom's best friend was hosting. There was really amazing food there—things like salt and acid that home cooks aren't always attune to. My mom asked who the caterer was and her name is Charlotte Berwind. I asked who that was, talked to her, and I wanted to learn how to cook like that. She said, you have to wash dishes first. I did that for two years, working at parties, weddings. After that, I started working the line and I worked for her for six years.
AB: Who's your mentor?
MT: Alex Becker, executive chef at Nobu L.A. when I worked there. I learned everything from him. But the single most important thing was how to be focused and stay calm under pressure. He taught me patience and you learn it on the line by getting things sent back all the time. It's so deflating, but you need the patience to keep going.
AB: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
MT: The farmers market, and in outreach work with Danny Avaro. I do a lot of volunteer work, bringing food to kids who are in the foster care system, and to benefits and bringing kids from the inner city to these events.
AB: If you could do one thing over, what would it be?
MT: I'm so deep in it right now that I can't think of anything. I like where I am. Things I would never do again? I don't know most of those things yet.
AB: Who do you consider your peers?
MT: My mentors are my peers—Vinny, Alex, Frank from Son of a Gun, everyone who works at this restaurant who is more talented then I am. Ari Taymor from Alma, Jordan Kahn, Walter Manzke, Brian and Kris from Hart and the Hunter, Josef Centeno—here in L.A., that's about it. I haven't been out of L.A. that much.
AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
MT: Opening this restaurant. I was running a pop-up out of my apartment for a year. And my dream was to do that and a series of pop-up restaurants in existing restaurants, then open my own. The guys we did the pop-up for here were very impressed and were planning on re-modeling and re-opening.
AB: What's your five-year plan?
MT: Owning a restaurant, most likely in northern California. It would force my food to have to be better. I want to be like Manresa—a destination restaurant. This restaurant is slightly like that—across from a Little Caesar's, in a dark corner, in a neighborhood that's just getting gentrified.
I want to push myself to go deeper into food and to get young cooks who want to work with me and attract people who will travel to eat at my restaurant. Also my fiancé, who's a psychologist, would love to move to North California.
AB: How do you describe your food?
MT: Avante-garde comfort food. It's soulful cuisine based in craftsmanship with a means toward artistry, while remembering everything has to be delicious. My philosophy is that it all has to be fun. It has to make you smile. One way I know a dish works is when people try it and smile when they eat the dish. It's nice.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MT: Food must me delicious. Food must be fun, as must dining. Yet there must be an aspect of theater, surprise, suspense, and challenge. Why dine out if not to be entertained and excited? If not to feel the tempo changes of acid and sugar as you dance across a dish or through out a meal? To feel the pulse or focus of your fellow diners. To leave with your head swimming with new flavors!
AB: What are you most proud of?
MT: As silly as it sounds, I’m most proud of writing down every recipe that I’ve encountered in my career. Surely it’s no award or honor. For those I’m also very grateful, however it has allowed me to build my own cuisine from all of the influences that I’ve been fortunate to have been touched by. And through that, it has allowed me to make the food that continues to inspire me to work harder every day and push for a greater cuisine still.
AB: What’s your sustainability ethos and the steps you have taken to achieve them?
MT: We aim to be as sustainable as possible, and achieve this by utilizing ingredients that for the most part are grown within 350 miles of the restaurant, using the most modern—and ancient—farming techniques, including organic and biodynamic styles. We work directly with farmers and contribute to their sustainability with composting and oil recycling projects. We work with proteins that are sustainable as well, all humanely raised and slaughtered with respect and raised in ways harmonious to the land around them. When using wild proteins, we steer clear of any that are endangered and attempt to use those protein sources that could feed the world, were they not so looked down upon by most, notably skate and squid. All of our usable trim is recycled for internal use (family meal) and the byproducts of our former dishes are re-imagined into the components of the new—as seen in the black-garlic confit oil used in the octopus dish. The confit was used on a former cauliflower dish.