For many chefs, food is more than sustenance — it’s art. Inspiration often strikes in the form of seasonal ingredients and cultural traditions. And there’s perhaps no more exciting space to cook than in the shadow of a museum.
Thanks in part to the burgeoning L.A. art scene, museum restaurants — from Otium at the Broad to Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA — have evolved into attractions all their own. We asked chefs at four L.A. restaurants what cooking next to (or inside) a museum means to them.
Ray’s and Stark Bar is located in LACMA's main courtyard, just behind the iconic Urban Light installation. The eatery’s unique architecture — including a vast patio and floor-to-ceiling wall of windows — helps guests easily transition from the museum to the restaurant. The menu, recently redone by newly installed executive chef Fernando Darin, features dishes such as Spanish octopus romesco, house-made agnolotti and deconstructed tiramisu. Ray’s also is known for its signature water menu, curated by the restaurant group’s water sommelier (yes, that’s a thing), which offers a global selection of flat and sparkling bottles.
From chef Darin:
“Before I became a professional chef, I was a musician for 14 years, so music and art have always been central to my life. And now, as the executive chef at Ray's at LACMA, I am surrounded by some of the most celebrated artwork in the world. It is just surreal. I am in awe of it every day and cannot put into words how inspiring it is. More than anything, having a restaurant in an art museum reminds me how important it is to stay creative.”
Scheduled to open in late summer or early fall, Manuela will be located within the new Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel gallery in the Arts District. The internationally renowned art operators from Switzerland opened the L.A. location of their highly anticipated contemporary art complex in March and will be completing the space with a Southern-inspired restaurant concept from chef Wes Whitsell. Hailing from rural Texas, Whitsell is in the process of crafting a menu of seasonal dishes that will feature pickling, fermenting and smoking in-house.
From chef Whitsell:
“In an indirect way, the art community, notably Paul Schimmel, is what brought me here, so in that fact art has every influence on the food. The restaurant will be at the center of the gallery and therefore will co-exist with the art in a beautifully interesting dynamic. However, the art will never nourish — that's why Manuela is so vital to the gallery. What I do isn't artistic to me; it's a craft. Of course, we see food before we eat it, and in that sense, it has to be visually appealing. But the art of food is when integrity remains, knowing a chef didn't spend five minutes trying to plate it, losing the honesty of what it really is – something that has to be eaten at its most prime moment. Manuela’s food will stay true to what’s growing and harvested in its peak season. By respecting and seasoning it properly, the food will speak for itself.”
Located alongside L.A.’s hottest new museum, the Broad, Otium is the brainchild of chef Tim Hollingworth, a downtown local who understands the culture of Grand Avenue. Hollingsworth works with sustainable ingredients from the restaurant’s mezzanine garden, located just outside. The restaurant’s name itself also speaks to the concept’s vision — derived from Latin, the name suggests “a place where time can be spent on leisurely social activities.”
From chef Tim Hollingsworth:
"Having a restaurant right next to the Broad museum really helped me nail down the concept at Otium. I knew there would be many L.A. locals as well as tourists from all around the world visiting; therefore, I needed to maintain a certain level of approachability with the food. The museum helped me express what Otium's view on what American food is today through the menu. Also, I try to walk through the museum as much as I can to not only gain inspiration from the collection but from the artists and their stories as well."
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If you think the views from the Getty Center gardens are postcard-worthy, then you’ll be dazzled by those from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Restaurant. A fine-dining concept in a breathtaking setting, the Restaurant offers dishes such as yellowtail crudo, grilled octopus and chicken liver mousse, which follow the same clean lines and neutral palette present throughout the Getty Center.
From chef Matt Lee:
"I am definitely influenced by both the Getty’s architecture and aesthetic and by specific exhibits. From the beautiful garden landscapes and stone travertine to the oceanfront views, it’s hard not to be inspired. I try to make my plates equally simple and elegant, using color and texture strategically. And I do look to the current exhibits for ideas for the Restaurant. Right now we have a tasting menu inspired by the "Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road" show. It includes an entrée with jade rice (flavored with bamboo leaves, known as the Tree of Life), a whole branzino and Chinese long beans. My goal is to continue the experience of the museum inside the restaurant.”