Chef Ari Taymor at Alma, a soon-to-be next-door neighbor to Ace Hotel Downtown LA, is a kindred spirit who understands that a dish holds every bit as much power to take you back in time or across the big ponds as the most haunting note struck on a Mellotron M400. We stopped in recently and broke bread with him and the Alma family and asked him if he could ruminate on some formative dishes for us.
Most of my memories of food and the compositions that take place from these memories center around other senses than taste.
Celery root soup, smoked lardo, apple and pine: This is a winter dish that for me evokes a summer day. A drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains on a first date. The cool, misty fog that covers the central coast each morning in the summertime is starting to burn off. The late morning turns to early afternoon and the lazy sun makes the resin of the pine trees fragrant, mixing with the smell of campfire. The blue of the ocean is visible in the distance. This dish that conjures for me a very clear moment in time and the flavors for me compartmentalize those emotions. Sweetness, smoke, bitter and salt.
Summer corn soup, vadouvan and nasturtium ice cream: A summer dish that brings back a moment on the cusp of an adventure. In Europe about to begin a stage in France at La Chassagnette. My girlfriend and I spent our last meal in London. A warm night, with a boat trip across the English Channel ahead. Never mind the fact that I ended up sick with food poisoning from this meal, what I remember most is nerves and excitement and feeling the start of something big, important and challenging. The dish has textural contrasts in the form of the softness of the soup and crunch from the dried corn, and temperature contrast from a hot soup poured over a savory ice cream. This dish was also inspired by a soup from David Kinch of Manresa.
Tartare of aged beef, smoked onion crème fraîche, rye and pickled shallot: I spent a few weeks in Copenhagen — alienating time for me, having just left a restaurant with the whole staff in explosive fashion. My personal life was not in good shape. It felt like a mistake to go. What I remember was the 22 hour sunlight and the feeling of not belonging. The dish itself tends toward the bitter, with the meat mixing with a savory rye granola and bitter young lettuces. The pickled shallots are meant to cut through the iron of the meat, and the onion crème fraîche adds fat and mouthfeel to extremely lean beef.
I understand that these are personal things to share, but for me, my cooking is just that. It feels like it is a cross section of myself put on display for everyone to see. I know that each person relates to each dish in their own way. I hope that they find it delicious but also I hope that they feel the emotion that goes into everything we do at Alma.