After struggling with disordered eating for 30 years, working the 80-hour week of a chef, and being overweight, Amber Caudle thought the answer to the ensuing fatigue and inflammation was to open her own restaurant. It was the healthiest decision of her life.
Together with pastry chef Cindy Van Pelt and Beth Hannemann, she opened The Source Cafe in Hermosa beach in 2012 and a Manhattan Beach location in 2021 during the pandemic that will reopen as Nine24 Kitchen on Saturday, March 12.
“I woke up and had the awakening that I wanted to heal myself with food and knew there was a market in the community of other people that wanted to be nourished with food,” Caudle tells L.A. Weekly, in the cozy candlelit dining room that was designed by a feng shui master, and has 24 dragon figurines buried under the concrete floor throughout the restaurant to encourage abundance, success and good luck. “I only serve foods that I can eat. I’m on this health journey of still healing my body from all the years of havoc the restaurant business has wreaked on me.”
Everything on the menu is dairy-free, gluten-free, organic and local, like wild bison meatballs with almond ricotta, a dreamy wild salmon on top of forbidden rice and carrot turmeric curry and cannellini cashew dip with cassava potato pita and crunchy seasonal market vegetables. Her focus is on organic and biodynamic wines. “You have a couple of glasses of organic wine versus a wine that’s sprayed with pesticides, you can feel the difference,” says the former Mediterraneo chef.
Part of the healing process also included her vision of a women-owned business after years of what she refers to as a male-dominated industry, which can still be toxic and traumatizing at times.
“I vowed that I would never speak to my employees like that,” says Caudle. “I want to speak to my employees the way I’d like to be spoken to. As women, I think we have more compassion and I can be more vulnerable with my team. We get things done because our communication level is amazing. We have a business life coach that we work with, and if we’re having issues, we immediately sit down and work through it together with business therapy. I started coaching my team to co-create together and at the end of the shift said, ‘Hey, what could I have done to make your shift better today?’ and they get to respond. The dishwasher is as important as the general manager. I can’t have anything passive-aggressive going on because it’s going to affect the food.”
She finished two books during COVID. Her cookbook “Sexy Nourishing Food,” with recipes like Bison Bolognese and Keto Flatbread Pizza, comes out next month. “Hungry, Why I F***ing Eat” will be out at the end of the fall and centers on her emotional relationship with food since she was 8 years old, disordered eating, how destructive she was with food in her body, hating herself, as well as an obsession with the scale and body dysmorphia.
“It’s about stepping in and loving yourself,” says the chef, with a healthy and positive glow, behind the bar.