At Manuela, a rising star chef joins forces with an art-world luminary to bring farm-to-fork fare to L.A.’s newest high-profile gallery.
Chickens scratch in the dirt. Flowers and emerald rows of herbs shoot upward in the sun. You can catch the scent of smoked pork shoulder and baby back ribs, freshly made tortillas and vegeta- bles sizzling on the grill.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the massive arts complex that opened in March in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, now has a garden—and a restaurant. Brilliant. That means you can sip Champagne or dig into some ribs while contemplating whether to buy that very expensive piece of art. Museums have had restaurants for a while now. But since when do galleries? Since now.
Manuela Wirth, one half of the couple topping ArtReview’s 2015 Power 100 list of the world’s most influential figures in contemporary art, wanted a space where Angelenos could spend time and experience the art. She and her husband, Iwan, who own galleries in Zurich, London, New York and Somerset, England (where they also have a restaurant and farm), don’t tend to do anything on a small scale.
Set in a vast former flour mill, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel includes a bookstore and research lab. And the restaurant Manuela (which opened in October), from M Winter Design, unfolds onto a courtyard that rivals a small town plaza. The space is is an art venue in its own right, complete with mirrored chandeliers composed of fluorescent tubes by Paul McCarthy, a Pacific Ocean-themed mural by Mary Heilmann and a mural by Raymond Pettibon depicting an Alpine landscape, part of the artist’s “Vavoom” series.
The project is a collaboration between the gallerist and chef Wes Whitsell, a North Texas native who cooked in L.A. (Osteria La Buca and, briefly, Gjelina and Blair’s) before heading the kitchen at Soho House New York. That’s where he met the Wirths when their L.A. partner, former MOCA curator Paul Schimmel, brought the couple in to try Whitsell’s cooking. Says Wirth, “After tasting his incredible food we immediately proposed the collaboration.”
“We have a shared vision,” says Whitsell, “for the grassroots, the grass-fed, the local and sustainable.” But he’s not just talking the talk. He’s spent the past eight months developing relations with farmers who work organically and raise animals ethically. If not, he won’t buy. “I want to get the best ingredients and let ’em shine.”
Two weeks before opening day in October, long communal tables were already in place in the garden. Heritage-breed chickens were moving into their coop. And in the far corner, Whitsell was building a barbecue big enough to roast three pigs. “Just make sure there aren’t any bones,” he cautioned, inspecting a cook’s bucket of kitchen scraps for the compost. “If I can grow all of my herbs for the restaurant, I’m going to be ecstatic.”
While the concept was a collaborative effort, the menu, says Wirth, is completely up to the chef. For inspiration, Whitsell is looking to the traditions of Rancho California and Texas. “California is very much influenced by Mexico and so is Texas. I grew up on enchiladas, breakfast tacos, chilaquiles, all that kind of fun stuff,” he says. “We’re even going to be making our own tortillas.”
Along with that house-smoked pork shoulder and baby back ribs, he plans to serve lots of game because it’s more sustainable. He’s thinking venison burger, elk chili or tartare, roast duck, fried quail—the kind of things he was raised on in rural Texas, plus dishes he’s eaten and enjoys around the world.
Lunch and brunch are up first—dinner will come later. Since close to 3,000 art lovers make the gallery a destination weekly, that’s a given. Manuela will certainly be there. After all, a lazy weekend brunch is her favorite thing in Los Angeles. And nothing, she says, beats the chef’s peach and ricotta pancakes with maple syrup. 907 E. Third St., L.A., 323-849-0480; manuela-la.com. • S. Irene Virbila.
Edited by Kelsey McKinnon.
Photography by Amy Dickerson.