While acclaimed Lulu chef and noted cookbook author David Tanis considers himself a “newbie” on the local farmers market scene, he’s already zeroed in on the best vendors Southern California has to offer to bring art on the plate at the zenlike restaurant in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum.
We caught up with him at the Weiser Family Farms stall at the Santa Monica market as he was loading up on 20 pounds of parsnips and 50 pounds of fresh mussels, an inspiration for his three-course prix fixe menu that changes every week and only gets determined once the boodle is unloaded in the kitchen.
“When it comes to parsnips, I like them boiled, I like them roasted, I like them in a chunky mash,” says Tanis of his beloved tubers as he loads them up in a weathered reusable bag.
Conceived together with legendary chef and food activist Alice Waters, Lulu also offers a seasonal a la carte menu with dishes like Sonoma goat cheese with garden lettuces and golden beets and California halibut carpaccio with Meyer lemon. The Lunar New Year inspired a prix fixe menu of hot and sour soup with chanterelles, a five-spice chicken breast with stir-fried greens and an almond cookie plate with mandarins and juicy quartered blood orange segments that fell like garnets on the plate.
For years, Waters was looking for the right museum to partner with using locally sourced ingredients. The Louvre in Paris, where Waters spent her formative years studying abroad in France, approached her; she declined the offer because the world-famous museum could not guarantee sourcing ingredients from local farmers. Teaming up with Tanis and his shared philosophy, the Hammer agreed to those terms wholeheartedly. They aim to support small local farms practicing the principles of regenerative organic agriculture.
L.A. Weekly Arts Editor and loyal lunch date Shana Nys Dambrot sums it up this way: “The conscious community aspect of the restaurant definitely matches the curatorial vision/direction of the museum, where shared experiences with an eye on regional history and social justice through culture matches the restaurant’s attitude to food, ingredients and elevation of the ‘story.’ It’s a great partnership.”