2017 Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Alison Trent of Ysabel

2017 Los Angeles Rising Star Chef Alison Trent of Ysabel
April 2017

945 N Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046


Alison Trent grew up in Canberra, Australia, learning to cook alongside her sister and gaining an appreciation for the wide-open spaces of her relatively rural pocket of the world. When it came time to pursue a career, she headed to New York city to study at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). Trent left New York as soon as she could, choosing to pursue California product and outdoor, sunshine-filled living in L.A. 

She worked with Michael Cimarusti at Providence for three years, gaining her first Michelin-starred experience. Next, she helped open Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Beverly Hills. Having gained the necessary chops, she moved to the epicenter of California cuisine, taking a position at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Trent spent three years in Yountville, where she learned discipline, picked up rigorous sourcing standards, and flourished in a high-stakes environment. Staying in the TK family of restaurants, she briefly returned to Bouchon in L.A. before striking out on her own. 

Trent now runs the kitchens of high-volume, stylish Ysabel and Laurel Hardware. At both restaurants, she brings her precise, eclectic, and hyper-seasonal cooking to bustling West Hollywood and is imparting her palate and technical acumen on a team of 50 cooks.

Interview with L.A. Rising Star Chef Alison Trent of Ysabel and Laurel Hardware

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Alison Trent:
I grew up in Australia, cooking with my sister. I moved to New York City, and went to the French Culinary Institute. In, L.A. I started working for Michael Cimarusti at Providence, then went to TK’s Bouchon, opened that restaurant, went to the French Laundry for three years, and then back to Bouchon. Now I’m executive chef here and at Laurel Hardware. 

CH: Who's your mentor?
Working for TK instilled in me a discipline you can’t get from other chefs. It’s inspiring to work at French Laundry, and to have that culinary garden. I was the only woman in the savory department. It was a male dominated, competitive environment where you’re forced to challenge yourself constantly and develop a tough skin. I’ve seen many a grown man walk out who couldn’t handle the pressure. The first year was really challenging, then I got into the groove. I’m an avid garden. We’re trying to do petite greens and such here. I’m growing a lot in my personal garden, and had an amazing harvest of radishes. 

CH: What’s a busy night here?
We do 350 covers on busy nights; through the week, around 200 covers. For the size of the restaurant and kitchen, it’s high volume. We’ve had a lot of luck staying busy; we’re about two years old now. 

CH: How big is your team?
We hav, between both restaurants, 35 cooks, making everything from scratch. I love pasta. I have a lovely lady who makes pasta five days a week, 10 hour days. We’re constantly changing the menu; changing it on a whim every day, just to keep us interested. I’m creating an environment of collaboration where we’re pushing ourselves and teaching each other. We’re always experimenting; if you don’t have failures, you’re not putting yourself out there. There’s never a dull moment. 

CH: Why this project? 
: I was attracted by the creative freedom, and moving out of the TK Group, and to the ability to explore different aspects of different cuisines. I love getting inspired by line cooks, asking for Grandmothers recipes, cooking with love. We learn from each other. There is no place for ego in the kitchen. There’s far too much ego kicking around. Ego does more of what it wants to do, not what clients want to eat. Listen to guests. Be calm in the face of pressure. That’s what sets you apart.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
I have recently done a great charity event through Habitat for Humanity. Last Monday we did an event that raised money for Guatemala. I jump at every opportunity that comes up to be part of the community—farmers market trips, eating out a lot, staying connected with people I’ve worked with… 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Space constraints; having a large volume but a small kitchen. The bar program has an extensive cocktail list, they take up their own space. We’re busier and busier, and looking at potentially expanding, opening a bakery next-door. The two gentlemen who own the restaurants are young Irish lads, 29. They are very ambitious. 

CH: What's your five-year plan? 
My ultimate goal is to own a restaurant on a farm, and synchronize those two passions. My dream has been not to be confined by the walls of a restaurant. I’d like to have a location that does weddings, has landscaped farmland, and capitalize on farm-to-table. I want big long dinner tables around the crops for putting on special events. I grew up not in a major city; It was about being outdoors. The indoor lifestyle of New York is oppressive. That’s why I came here. I enjoyed the pace here. Now that I’ve been here for 13 years, it would be hard to go back. I’ve been lucky enough to pick up and start a life of my own. My parents knew I was going to be the independent one, the black sheep. 

CH: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Learning under Michael Cimarusti, then going to French Laundry and being broken down. I also went through a separation with my husband, which made me put my head down even more. I’ve had feeling of inadequacy. For someone who was fairly confident, I’d been beat down on a daily basis, having so many failures before things started to make sense. I started as a commis, then moved up to chef de partie. You sit in a circle, talk about availability at the farm, and make suggestions. I stayed on the canapĂ© station for a long time.