From her perch above the picturesque Pacific Ocean on the iconic Malibu Pier, the Swedish-born Chef Helene Henderson, has been quietly transforming the Malibu food scene. Her 1,200-square-foot “farm-to-table” themed Malibu Farm Cafe now feeds more than 3,000 people on a summer weekend and has expanded into the larger, more prime-time restaurant Malibu Farm at the shore end of the pier, complete with a produce-driven cocktail bar and a wood-fired oven. I reached out to the ethereal and beautifully organic Henderson, to discuss the current “farm to table” concept and how California’s Coastal lifestyle has played a large part in her organic success.
Malibu Farm in my opinion is the quintessential “farm-to-table” California experience, with two wildly popular restaurants located on the iconic Malibu Pier. How has the California lifestyle influenced your restaurants?
I think of myself as the quintessential Californian! I love California, and worship the magic that the state and the people bring to this amazing place. We are so blessed for the restaurants to have access to the incredible California grown vegetables and fruits year round. People here also embrace healthy living and clean foods which make it easy for us to offer menu items full of fresh vegetables and greens.
I also wanted to create an environment that could appeal to someone coming up straight from the beach as well as someone out on a date or a business meeting. I wanted an environment that would appeal to young people and their parents. A place for families to join together.
The décor at the original Malibu Café at the end of the pier is cozy and rustic; self-serve, laid back California style, with soft sheepskin throws and linen napkins. What was the inspiration for the overall design esthetics?
Originally the cafe had been a Ruby’s diner and it was all red leather banquettes and shiny metals. As soon as we changed the color palette to muted greys, white and rustic woods, the ocean views really popped. We wanted a rustic but casual environment where you would be comfortable to come in your yoga gear, with your dog or kid in tow, or dressed up.
The concept is “farm-to-table” dining, meaning everything offered at your restaurants is local and fresh, from the farm literally to the table. What percentage of food is grown at your home farm and actually supplied to your restaurants?
When I opened the cafe we were such a small operation and I believed I would be able to source almost everything from my own backyard farm. We projected at the time that we would do 30 customers per day. Now during busy season we do 1800 customers per day on the pier. However, pending the season we can supply strawberries, blueberries, citrus, kale, chard, snap peas, zucchini and tomatoes at close to 90% of our needs from Malibu local farms, including some from my home. Maggie’s Farm supplies most of our other greens including arugula, pea shots, romaine, and frisee. Other items come from Santa Monica farmers market.
You have the best EGGS, (the egg sandwich is my favorite) how many eggs do you go through in a week?
When I opened the cafe I thought I could supply all the eggs from my house. I have 30 chickens which equal about 30 eggs per day, which I thought would be plenty. Today we use about 5,000 eggs per week. I do still bring eggs from my home, so it’s possible the egg you eat is from my farm!
Name three things you can’t live without…
My family, my animals and the hope of a new day.
How has the California drought affected your restaurants and what efforts are you making to do your part in conserving water?
The pier is a California State park so there have been a lot of reductions on water use in general for pier visitors, such as foot washing and fish cleaning stations that have been eliminated. All our water spigots and faucets have water reducing settings on them. We are not supposed to offer water to the tables unless requested, but this can be a challenge as customers do complain about not getting water as soon as they are seated.
What is your favorite time of the day?
I love mornings. Each morning brings a new opportunity to do better than the day before, both professionally and personally. Each sunrise brings a new chance to spend more time with family or doing things I love. Every new day a possibility to forget, forgive and renew.