January 31 2016

For Alma’s Ari Taymor, Creativity and Constraint Are a Perfect Pairing

Los Angeles-Table Talk
For Alma (now at The Standard, Hollywood) and Coleman Farms, creativity and constraint pair nicely
Alma, one of Los Angeles’ most talked about restaurants, is in residency at The Standard, Hollywood until Memorial Day. The hotel pays the gasman and makes sure the WiFi is working and lets Chef Ari Taymor do what he does best: sourcing sustainably produced foods and ingredients and creating innovative and delicious dishes. “I think we’re in a very fortunate position,” he confides. “We have the ability to do more or less what we want to. The flexibility is ideal.” 

It appears the Los Angeles Times is impressed with this arrangement as well. “Alma at The Standard is probably a better restaurant than Alma,” the Times writes in their review. “More consistent, more evenly paced and more fun. It is filled with people who want to have a great dinner rather than with gourmands looking to tick another famous restaurant off their list. You can have a cocktail if you want one.”
Ashleigh Parsons and Chef Ari Taymor

Ashleigh Parsons and Chef Ari Taymor

Indeed, have two! However, the drink that has weighed the heaviest on people’s minds lately isn’t alcoholic. It’s that precious glass of water. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s the trend was, ‘we can get any ingredients we want, from whatever part of the world, whenever we want’,” co-owner Ashleigh Parsons explains. “Now, with an eye towards sustainability in sourcing, the challenge is more, ‘what can I create with these 5 ingredients because that’s all I have?’ I would argue that the most beautiful creations come out of those limitations.”

As for Chef Taymor, he sees it as a good sign these challenges have become more or less second nature to his process. “I’ve never done anything else or worked in a restaurant that has done anything else. To me it doesn’t feel like limitations. It’s just, like, the only way to do things. Even though there is a drought we’re still very lucky in California to have the array of products that we do year round. I’ve cooked in California for almost my entire career so this is the set of ingredients and the set of flavors that I’ve come up cooking and learned from. It would be more of a challenge to have products added.”
"To me, it doesn’t feel like limitations. It’s just, like, the only way to do things."
One of their go-to sources is Coleman Farms. Romeo Coleman runs the family farm in Carpinteria, which was started by his father in 1963. What’s significant about Coleman Farms is their ability to grow a diverse range of produce given the region’s unique climate and their willingness to try uncommon crops – all grown organically and with sustainable methods.
 
“Carpentaria is a Mediterranean climate. It’s along the coast, close to the ocean. It gets gentle winds just to keep the temperatures from freezing for long periods of time…It’s a very unique microclimate.”
 
Besides being able to produce both apples and bananas on the same plot of land – an unusual farming feat – Coleman Farms cultivates a myriad of perennial herbs like anise hyssop, lovage, tarragon, five different types of basil as well as unconventional tropical fruits like zapotes and cherimoyas.
 
The Standard
"They always forget that we’re paying for water...if you can reduce the amount, that’s a win-win for you, the environment and everyone around you."
Coleman Farms 

Coleman Farms 

We asked Coleman what the drought has has been like for him and if it affects the decision to grow certain crops. “Most people have misconceptions that farmers want to use tons of water just because we can, but they always forget that we’re paying for water because that’s an input. So if you can reduce that input amount, that’s a win-win for you, the environment and everyone around you.”
 
Coleman went onto explain that the real challenges with water shortages have less to do with annual rainfall, as various methods have been developed over the decades to assist in these types of situations, and more to do with the bigger picture within the ecosystem. For instance, the increasing presence of the bagrata bug, a non-native species whose existence in the U.S. can be traced back 8 years to the LAX area. The bug usually feeds on wild mustard in the hills. Since the draught, those plants aren't around so now the bug is putting major pressures on organic farmers. Some farms are known to have complete crops of kale, broccoli and cabbage decimated by the bug in its search for a new source of food. 
<b>Above:</b> Romeo Coleman <b>Right:</b> One of Chef Ari's creations&nbsp;

Above: Romeo Coleman Right: One of Chef Ari's creations 

When asked of his favorite thing to grow, “That’s a hard choice. That’s like choosing which one of your kids is your favorite…I love them all for different reasons.”
 
Taymor’s favorite things are Coleman’s array of lettuces and exceptional herbs. Ingredients like tarragon and little gem compose a first course on Alma’s menu with pear and hazelnuts. Chamomile gets tucked into a shortcake with strawberries and almonds for a dessert.
 
This time of year Taymor seems most excited about winter fruits, citrus to be precise. Not unlike Coleman finding it difficult to name his favorite thing to grow, Taymor is hard pressed picking out his favorite dish. “We’re doing a really cool rib dish with pumpkin and kumquats and hazlenuts, but right now I just like the diversity of the menu and how it's structured, so I like all the dishes to be honest.”

To make a reservation: 
Visit OpenTable 
Email us: Alma@StandardHotels.com
Or call: (323) 822-3131
Photos
Jon Levitt
Photos and Interview
Jay Carroll