Renowned local chef and one-time champion of Food Network’s Chopped, D. Brandon Walker has built an inventive eatery in his own neighborhood of Mar Vista
Written by Virginia Fay
Hand-crafted wooden tables sit below 12-foot skylights filling the breezy space with light. On your plate is food as fresh as the live plants hanging from exposed beams overhead. This is The Mar Vista, a farm-to-table restaurant nestled into the Westside’s Mar Vista neighborhood serving “progressive Angeleno” fare, as described by the restaurant’s Executive Chef D. Brandon Walker, or “Chef D.,” as he’s more commonly known.
A Los Angeles local, Walker strongly believes that the city has a flavor all its own. “For a long time now, I’ve felt that Los Angeles really couldn’t be under the umbrella of California cuisine any longer, because there are so many amazing traditions here… that are very specific to Los Angeles,” Walker says, citing generations of Korean, Oaxacan, and Armenian food as examples of the city’s cooking traditions.
In creating The Mar Vista’s menu, Walker took all of these traditions into account, calling it a reimagining of the flavors of his childhood. Besides his deeply ingrained appreciation of L.A. cuisine is Walker’s great respect for the seasonally- and regionally-driven cooking methods of cultures worldwide.
Walker and The Mar Vista’s Chef de Cuisine Jorge Rivas share a passion for international travel, and have even cooked around the world together. The two, along with Executive Chef Jill Davie, brought this methodology to bear when they created The Mar Vista concept. The menu is divided into seven main “boxes,” Walker explains, including self-explanatory staples like “saladry” and “sweet things,” and more distinctive categories such as “turned,” dishes cooked in a Brazilian-barbecue style, and hot pots. While they didn’t want to offer only small plates, the “all play” menu subhead has tantalizing options for those in the mood for tapas-style dining, while “plates” includes hearty entrées.
No matter the category, the menu, especially its weekly specials, is driven largely by what local ingredients are freshest. Recently, Walker found himself with an extra supply of andouille sausage after brunch and made a special jambalaya hot pot, a “mash up of New Orleans and Korea,” as he describes it. His signature “mash-up” cooking style is also born, in part, from his time at the St. Joseph Center. As the executive chef of Bread & Roses Café there, he cooked gourmet meals for homeless people five days a week. Using whatever the kitchen had on hand to create top-quality meals bred an inventive cooking style that he’s applied to The Mar Vista menu.
This cooking style is perfectly encapsulated, Walker says, in one of The Mar Vista’s most popular dishes, and his personal favorite: pork osso bucco. He braises the pork shank in pasole, a traditional Mexican bone and chile soup, and serves it with Anaheim chile hominy sweet corn, a toasted pepita vinaigrette, and dresses it with red mizuna and frisée. Walker’s goal for the restaurant was to create “the kind of place you want to stay for a while,” and with innovative standbys and weekly specials like this, paired with the eatery’s eminently inviting atmosphere, it’s safe to say: mission accomplished.
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