C California Style

JULIE TANOUS makes her couscous.
The “APRON SQUAD” scoops up new flavors from JENI’S SPLENDID ICE CREAMS like Savannah buttermint and whole lemon sorbet. “I love it when everyone just dives in!” says Bennett.
Longtime friends Funke and Bennett in the kitchen.
Designer ELLEN BENNETT and boyfriend Casey Caplowe, co-founder and creative director of Good magazine, with their pig Oliver (nibbling up Cheerios).
Chef Evan Funke rolls out strascinati, a Puglian pasta.
A farmers-market salad with fennel and oranges assembled by REBECCA MERHEJ, who brought a strawberry polenta cake.
The cavarola board incises the strascinati.
FABIAN GALLARDO prepares aguachile.

A Scene to Savor

by C California Style

At home in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, Hedley & Bennett founder ELLEN BENNETT hosts weekend brunches that have become the HOTTEST TABLE in town.

Since 2012, line cook-turned-designer Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett has been producing a range of stylishly sturdy utilitarian aprons that have taken the culinary world by storm. Just last year, the company, which counts star chefs such as Vinny Dotolo and Mario Batali among its fans, moved into a 14,000-square-foot facility near Downtown L.A. where the entire collection of aprons, work shirts, chef coats and now table linens are produced by hand. Always on the go, Bennett has found that the best way for her to recharge is to host casual gatherings—“Bennett Brunches,” as they’re known—at the Echo Park home she shares with her boyfriend, Casey Caplowe, creative director and co-founder of Good magazine.

The house was designed by Caplowe after a fire destroyed the original structure a few years ago, and it’s now a modernist, loftlike space ideal for entertaining. The open-plan living-dining area extends to a rear deck that drops down to a terraced backyard with sitting areas, a kitchen garden, a bocce ball court and plenty of foraging space for the couple’s pot-bellied pig, Oliver, and chickens, Edna Lewis and Amelia Earhart.

“I meet so many amazing people,” says Bennett, gesturing to the assembled group of chef and foodie friends, all members of what she dubs the “Apron Squad.” “I don’t curate these brunches, people just bring what they want and we hang out and cook.” For this Sunday gathering, guests include chefs Chris Oh of Hanjip, Evan Funke of soon-to-open Felix (and formerly of Bucato), Rebecca Merhej of Love & Salt and Fabian Gallardo of Petty Cash; Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams; and food bloggers and writers Julie Tanous, Lily Diamond, Farley Elliott and Heather Platt. All arrive with their specialty in tow, donning aprons and ready to prep everything from food to fresh herb bouquets.

Bennett doesn’t stand on formality and soon the entire space is humming. “It’s the vibe of a kitchen in my own kitchen!” she says gleefully. While Oh is outside grilling a 3-pound tomahawk steak marinated in Korean spices, Funke is at the island making pasta for his signature dish, cacio e pepe. “She’s got style and grace—sort of Italian 1960s yet cutting edge,” Funke says of Bennett. “She’s changed kitchen clothes, and that’s so cool.” In addition to her own line, Bennett also offers full customization, something Oh and Funke are exploring: Oh for staff aprons, and Funke for a shop coat inspired by butchers’ jackets.

As the outside temperature soared, Bennett and friends dragged the picnic table, laid with her prototype linens, and ceramics from local potter Robert Siegel, through the massive sliding glass door, right into the main living space—a perfect display of the designer’s quick thinking and adaptability. (The open door did, however, mean that Oliver the pig was able to come and go as he pleased, at one point absconding with several of Gallardo’s avocados.)

These brunches, which have been happening for about a year, have inspired countless new friendships (and recipes), but they are also the story behind her latest collection. When Bennett started grabbing random fabrics to use as impromptu tablecloths, she thought, “Why not make runners and napkins?” Launching this summer, the new linens are available in four colorways, but expect more to follow. “They’re all different. I love the zigzag stitching,” she says.

Bennett’s energy is perhaps best summed up by Caplowe: “She’s a ‘let’s get stuff done’ person,” he says. And as toasts go up and the meal is begun, Bennett is truly happy. “I love putting people in crazy situations, like peeling carrots with a famous chef. When you take people out of their comfort zone, beautiful things can happen.”
hedleyandbennett.com. • MAILE PINGEL

PHOTOS: Jessica Sample.