Fresh Talk with Malibu Farm’s Helene Henderson
Farm-to-table dining may seem ubiquitous these days, but the chef behind Pier 17’s newest restaurant, Malibu Farm, has been cooking with fresh, organic produce for years—so fresh that in the early days of her first casual-service counter on the Malibu Pier, the eggs came from her chickens and the oranges and lemons from the trees in her backyard.
Even now, with a handful of Malibu Farm restaurants around the country (and in Cabo), sourcing locally is a priority for Helene Henderson and her team. We spoke to the chef as she brought Malibu Farm from pier to pier, opening her latest outpost here in the Seaport District.
What can New Yorkers expect from Malibu Farm at Pier 17?
A casual, fun neighborhood place. Water views should not just be for tourists or special occasions. We hope every day is a day for locals to visit Pier 17.
What appealed to you about having a restaurant in the Seaport District?
We are completely and utterly in love with the idea of going from “pier to pier”—the Malibu Pier to Pier 17. From west coast to east coast. As someone who immigrated to America with a first stop in New York City, I have come full circle. It feels like a homecoming.
What was important to you when you were creating the menu for Malibu Farm New York?
We hope that coming to Malibu Farm will feel like coming home, so in that spirit some of our classic dishes are on all our menus. But we also have local specials to give each city its own personality. I am obsessed with the Big Apple, so the Big Apple French Toast is already on our brunch menu—delish! The Apple Brussels Salad should come next…. Hmmm, kale apple juice… stop me before there are apples in every dish!
What makes Malibu Farm different than any other restaurant in New York?
We try to be fun and offer an inclusive environment and menu. We cook for the people. We are only succeeding when families with grandmothers and children, traditional eaters, and those who are vegan or gluten-free—everyone—can find something to eat and feel welcome. And, we will make you eat your greens! I’m kidding, but we will in fact try our darnedest by putting greens and vegetables on every plate. If you don’t want to eat them, you will have to ask us to take them off!
What is your favorite dish to make at home?
I make a warm pasta salad with fresh cherry tomatoes and tons of arugula which I never get tired of and can eat every day. I do love raw Brussels salad and we have that at all the restaurants. And I never get tired of broccoli mashed potatoes.
What are the most underrated ingredients in your opinion?
Underrated, hmm… Well, now you know I am an arugula-holic! That’s because at my house there are so many critter friends—ground squirrels, gophers, bunnies, coyotes (who love persimmon, FYI) and, for a while, my neighbor’s 30 peacocks that raided my yard each day. Guess what none of these “friends” eat? That’s right—arugula! Nobody eats arugula but humans, therefore I always had so much arugula that I started to put it into everything and on everything. It is really good in ice cream. (Seriously.)
Do you listen to music when you cook at home?
I am a queen of silence. Noise overwhelms me, so I seldom listen to music. Sometimes I listen to Florence + The Machine, but I am partial since she is my niece. However, it still makes me want to dance and sing when I hear her music. I remember her as a little girl who said she would grow up to sing and be a Disney princess. Now she’s a superstar and, hey, I’ve opened a restaurant in New York City, so the impossible is actually possible. Dream big!
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dine with you at Malibu Farm New York, who would they be?
I would invite someone from the past—my mother, who never saw Malibu Farm happen. I used a small inheritance from her to open the original pop-up cafe. I would invite someone from the present—Michelle Obama, because she rules. And someone for our future—Greta Thunberg. Greta—you go, girl! You alone will inspire so many, and for that I thank you. So, yeah—it is an all-female dinner party. Sorry, guys.
Malibu Farm is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner!
Sat & Sun: 11am–4pm
Mon – Fri: 11am–4pm
Mon – Sat: 5pm –10pm
Pier 17, 89 South Street, New York. Ph: 212-265-3030.