An Heirloom for the Palate
Demonstrating that everything old is new again, Heirloom L.A. looks to the past to serve creative cuisine in the present.
By Bradley Tuck 01/03/2013
Is it a catering company? Is it a pop-up restaurant? Is it an event space? Well, yes, yes and yes: Heirloom L.A. is all those things. Tucked oh-so-discreetly next to a strip mall populated by a donut shop, a laundromat and --- a rarity in L.A. --- a Polish restaurant, Heirloom L.A. is a microcosm of what has been happening in the city’s culinary landscape over the past several years. Farm-to-table cooking? Check. Homegrown produce from a dedicated organic garden? Tick that box. Pop-up events and partnerships with young, like-minded chefs, winemakers and food artisans? Done. Food truck? Duh. A specialty that has gone viral in a way, becoming a runaway hit on its own; Meet the lasagna cupcake.
Behind this ambitious --- and I’d add the word “soulful” --- venture are two photogenic young people, Matt Poley and Tara Maxey. In 2009, they took a pasta machine and, borrowing commercial kitchens at off-hours, began making pasta together. They both have the requisite credentials under their belts. Poley trained under the venerable Gino Angelini, owner of Angelini Osteria and a heavyweight in L.A.’s Italian dining scene. He also worked at a farm-based restaurant outside Orvieto, Italy, where he saw true sustainability and farm-to-table in action --- involving genuinely free-range animals, fed kitchen scraps and then butchered for food, with every part of the animal being used. Maxey has a background of similar luster, having trained at Spago under Pastry Chef Suzanne Griswold and later with Elizabeth Belkind of Cake Monkey Bakery.
The pasta machine coupled with their youthful approach spawned the lasagna cupcake and birthed a catering company, which they named Heirloom L.A. Success with the catering and events company funded the acquisition of a facility in Eagle Rock, and further growth allowed them to acquire a former hairdressing salon next door, which is now used as a space for events and collaborations. Named, appropriately enough, The Salon, it’s a small and simple space, with white walls punctuated by simply framed color prints by photographer Autumn de Wilde. The room is dominated by a circular wooden station, not unlike a round sushi counter, around which one sits while Poley finishes dishes in the center.
It made for intriguing entertainment at a recent dinner held in conjunction with Bridlewood Wines of Santa Ynez. Pairing dishes with a selection of Bridlewood’s current vintages, Poley joked affably while teasing hand-cut chitarra pasta into mounds speckled with house-made fennel sausage and black truffle, and topped with a homemade crème fraîche that actually contained no cream at all but was made instead with cooked-down and pulverized cauliflower florets. It was rich and incredibly flavorful and paired very well with Bridlewood’s 2010 Blend 175, a blend of syrah, merlot, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. It was fruity without being a tiring fruit bomb, with enough brightness to let you go back for another mouthful of pasta.
Behind The Salon, the duo built a garden of raised wooden planting beds, aided by nurseryman Jimmy Williams, a regular at farmers’ markets across L.A., where he sells his seedlings and dispenses sage wisdom to novice gardeners and chefs. The garden is a work in progress (as are all gardens) and yields a diverse array of seasonal produce, including peas, tomatoes, eggplant, passionfruit and chard.
Previous Salon events have included a dinner with that hipster favorite, Handsome Coffee Roasters, and cult winemaker Jeff Fischer of Habit Wines. The dinners are by invitation and through friends, but Heirloom plans to start announcing events soon via Twitter and Facebook, allowing anybody the chance to snag a seat at their highly sought-after table. (It’s not about exclusivity, it’s about practicality --- the room seats just 33 people.)
I used the word soulful to describe Heirloom L.A., and allow me to clarify that. Despite all of the requisite trendy boxes being ticked, what Poley and Maxey are doing has nothing to do with mere trends. They’ve been striving to reconnect us with a way of making and eating food that was very much the norm for our grandparents, and is still so for some people who live in cultures less obsessed with the minutiae of the here and now, the latest Twitter sensation or the state of a handbag empress’ love life. Good food and the sharing of it nourish not just our bodies but our hearts, minds and souls. An heirloom is something that connects us with our shared past. And in this case, we hope, a shared, more thoughtful future.