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Ari Taymor

Co-Founder + Chef of Alma

Jun 28, 2016

Ari Taymor, Co-Founder + Chef of Alma


From the Santa Monica Farmers Market to prepping in the kitchen, we got an in-depth look at what it’s really like to be Ari Taymor, Founding Partner and Chef of Alma.


Insider Info: Alma's Roots


I think we were both 23 and we thought “we’ll open a place called Alma someday.”

In our minds we envisioned it to be a spot for the community: artists, musicians, creatives. A place to come meet new people and eat good food. That was in 2009. I met Ari the year before at a yoga studio on Folsom Street in San Francisco. When I asked him what he did, he replied “I cook.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant until we started talking. He knew everything from Alice Waters’ life story to the details of stone barn at Blue Hill to Michel Bras and what inspired his cooking. Ari seemed to read cookbooks overnight and memorize their contents. Rene Redzepi, David Kinch, Jeremy Fox, Daniel Patterson, Inaki—these were all chefs that he followed obsessively. His obsession was toxic, too.

Born and raised in New Jersey with no knowledge of the food world, I found myself falling in love with the farmers markets in the Bay Area and paying close attention to the influential food mecca that I was surrounded by in San Francisco. During this time I began to explore how my passion for education could somehow merge with food. It made sense in my head but I couldn’t yet get it down on paper.

We both traveled to Arles, France in 2010 to work alongside chef Armand Arnal at La Chassagnette. Located on 500 acres of fertile land in the middle of the Carmargue, the restaurant is idyllic. Ari worked the line and I learned Michelin starred service, essentially serving as a bus boy, carefully folding hundreds of napkins each day and polishing beautiful wine glasses. Ari learned how to cook Michelin starred food with a dedication to garden to table cuisine.

During the stage in France I think we both felt inspired to bring what we had learned in the south of France to California, but when we returned to San Francisco the challenge seemed too great.

So in 2011, I went to Cambridge to pursue a Masters Degree in Education while Ari focused his energy on building his resume, working in highly acclaimed restaurants throughout California. He told me he would open a restaurant before he was 30. He was 25 at the time and not for a moment did I doubt his words. In 2012, he moved to L.A. to run a kitchen, but it didn’t work out the way he wanted. I think he realized at that he had to be his own boss moving forward. He was a visionary and that didn’t fit well within the “answer to a boss” model.

Without taking a moment to pause, Ari began Alma pop-ups with a small crew and 20 hour days. What little profit they made off the dinners went to investing in the next pop-up. You could find them at Flake in Venice or Millies on the East Side. While he had no previous street cred, his food and vibe received a lot a buzz, which I think gave Ari the confidence to pursue opening his own restaurant.

I watched the story of Alma unfold from Cambridge. I tried to focus my energy on research, but I couldn’t subdue my draw toward Los Angeles and to Alma. I graduated in May, and in June, Ari called me up and said, “I have a lease available. The Ace is opening up across the street in a year or two. It’s downtown where everything is happening. I have 24 hours to decide. Thoughts?” I responded with a simple “yes.”

He signed the lease the next day and I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles.

The Recipe

We’ve always wanted to cook like Ari, but alas, we’re not quite as skilled (surprise, surprise). But the first time we had the Crab Poutine at Alma’s Brunch, we knew we had to learn how to make it. So we asked Ari how to make the dish and lucky for us—he shared.

We’ve always wanted to cook like Ari, but alas, we’re not quite as skilled (surprise, surprise). But the first time we had the Crab Poutine at Alma’s Brunch, we knew we had to learn how to make it. So we asked Ari how to make the dish and lucky for us—he shared.

An Interview With Ari: Stick(y) Talk


If you’re looking for a gritty-meets-polished corner in Hollywood, look no further than Alma—the restaurant renegade itself. Expect good taste in music (we’re talking Outkast to Future to Biggie) and of course, impeccable taste in food. Alma’s residency at The Standard Hollywood came after the closing of their stand-alone restaurant in downtown—but don’t worry, they’re still one of the most coveted seats in town. Moral of the story: You can move Alma, but you can change it. It’s always delicious, always forward thinking, and never conforming.

We sat down with Founding Partner and Chef, Ari Taymor, to talk about all things Alma—there may or may not have been Aquemini playing in the background.

How has it been transitioning Alma from a stand-alone restaurant to a residency at The Standard? 

We started as a pop-up and our initial existence was impermanent, even as a permanent restaurant, because we never had investors or financial backing. We were literally week-to-week from day one. It was a miracle that we made it through our first year and then three-and-a-half years without a single investor. It was shocking to us.

Even when we were very impermanent in the beginning, my background was restaurants, and I still respected the restaurant experience and the fact that people spend their money here—I don’t take that lightly at all. So we always approached everything in a very professional environment from day one.

How has the food changed with the move?

It’s not a tasting menu anymore, but the same things we did downtown inform it. I don’t think we could have gotten the food to where it is without having gone through that evolution. It taught us where we can and can’t push and how to better run a business that’s informed by comfort and creating an environment where people feel really welcome.

It seems like you’re doing more interactive experiences by integrating music (@nitejewel) and different environments. Are you looking to make Alma more of an interactive experience?

That’s always been our goal with Alma. We always felt that food was one facet of what we do and the rest of it was creating a collaborative environment—through eating or a space where people could disarm themselves and just be. Music, the way things look, textures—it’s all a really important part of a well-rounded experience.
What inspired you to start cooking brunch? 

We were asked to do it and it kind of felt like the next logical step in terms of us being able to feed more people. I have a lot of cooks with a lot of ideas and this allows them another service and environment to create new dishes.

Do you have any favorite brunch dishes you’ve been putting out? We heard you’re doing donuts every week!

I love all of our pastries—our sticky bun is amazing. It’s an obscene size and good for four—I mean, I eat myself—but it’s good for four. We also do a different donut every week and they’re really fun because we play with colors and flavors. I love that feeling when you were a kid and you got a candy bar, but your hands were so small you didn’t know where to start. That’s what we’re bringing back.

Also, one of my sous chefs made this Kimchi and Tassled Ham Hash and he took 90% of the creative on it and I helped him finish it. It’s balanced layers of flavors: fermented, spicy, fat from the avocado, and meatiness from the ham—there are so many layerings of the same flavors that it tastes very familiar, but unique. You just can’t tell how much work went into it—you don’t know that we made the ham and the kimchi, and it doesn’t matter. That’s for us to know.

As far as local farming and local agriculture, that’s related back to Alma’s Community Outreach. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

That’s really my business partner Ashleigh’s baby. She worked in after school programs straight out of college and has a Education Master’s Degree from Harvard. We want to demystify eating healthy. We work with three different schools in Obama’s Promise Zones, and we have gardens where the kids can cook and take nutrition classes. Sometimes the kids come up with recipes and sometimes they get programs— we have a whole host of volunteers and different creative people that come spend time there.

I feel like people are empowering each other on both sides and everyone participates—it feels better for it. It’s not so much about teaching anybody, as it is about exposing. The kids are exposing our volunteers to their culture and the reality of their lives, and similarly, on our side, they get to see a different perspective and a different way of viewing the world both on food and outside. We’re not there to colonize in a way the new food projects are, we’re there to learn and we’re there to share.

How long have you guys been doing the program for?

Since day one.  It started side by side in the restaurant. Ashleigh left some promising academic and research offers to do this, and her need was for fulfillment as both an entrepreneur and a true member of the community.

What’s a normal day in the life for you?

Wake up, eat, exercise—sometimes farmers market, sometimes meetings, sometimes just do nothing for a while and reading or finding a quite moment to not stress. If I’m in town I’m at the restaurant for a little bit everyday, if not longer, especially when we’re championing a dish. Afterwards I’ll go home or hang out with friends. I definitely have a lot more freedom now than when we were downtown. I basically worked from 22 until now, so for about 8 years I was working 90+ hours a week—I didn’t have a life and I think that definitely affected my work and the restaurant. Now we really focus on quality of life for the ownership and the staff. We want to retain our staff, so we celebrate them.

What’s up next for Alma? 

On an organizational level, we’re looking to expand our reach at The Standard, especially when it comes to buying power. We have the ability to change the direction sourcing wise and we have the power of an entire hotel to take it from imported products and conventional farming into small local agriculture.

It’s especially important right now when small farmers are really struggling and starting to disappear around the drought and the economic conditions around labor. I think the ability to flush that much money into local food systems at this point is really, really important. Our goal is to get as big as we can without watering down what we do.

An Intro From Our Founder


So what exactly is Westwood Westwood? It’s a platform where we showcase and celebrate those who have created a ‘career’ out of passion and curiosity.  It’s for the misfits and risk-takers who didn’t follow the conventional way(s) of achieving ‘success,’ though receiving praise from others wasn’t really the goal anyway. We truly believe that everyone has a desire to pursue their dreams and follow their own path; some just need more nudging, examples and reassurance.

That’s precisely why Westwood Westwood is live. In weeks, months and (hopefully) years to come, our objective is to effectively remind everyone that no matter the craft or skill, with persistence and perseverance, anyone can lead a purposeful life while attaining various accomplishments and happiness. While we’ll launch new stories around specific individuals (i.e. entrepreneurial creatives) every week, we will also have relevant and insightful content that resonates and inspires.

On that note, I’m proud to launch our first week of Westwood Westwood with Ari Taymor! If you’re not familiar with his story, Ari was and is one of the youngest chefs in America to have earned so many distinctions (Bon Appétit Magazine’s Best New Restaurant, 2013; Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, 2014; and James Beard Rising Star Chef nominee, 2015). Alongside Ashleigh Parsons (Co-Founder of Alma), Taymor had opened a small restaurant meant as a pop-up of sorts at 26 years old without investors or backing of anyone noteworthy.  Four years later, he and Alma are both in completely different places; physically in that Alma is now at The Standard Hollywood and mentally, Ari has a revitalized perspective on how to better balance and navigate through EVERYTHING.