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Farm Restaurants Are Going Global

Helene Henderson reveals how she got an organic start as a chef and restauranteur

Chef and restaurateur Helene Henderson, founder of Malibu Farm, wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. “I play with my phone for a bit to not wake anyone else in the house, then it is animals first: I feed the cat, then I let the dogs out, I feed the front yard animals, the pig and the chickens, and then down below to the goats,” says the busy chef, who tends to her own two-acre Malibu farm and splits her time between the café and restaurant on the Malibu Pier known for locally sourced organic fruit and vegetables, grass-fed beef, and free-range eggs. “Then I eat my first breakfast—green tea and a little yogurt—while I read the Los Angeles Times. Around 9 a.m., I go for a run or to the gym and usually arrive on the pier by 10:30 a.m. Once I’m at the pier, I drink coffee and eat the staff meal. I visit both the café and restaurant and run up and down the pier many times per day.”

Henderson, who spent her childhood learning cooking, foraging, and smoking skills from her grandmother in her native town of Lulea, Sweden, first moved to New York after graduating from high school. “I didn’t have a plan, money, or any connections—not sure what I was thinking, but I was taking a gap year before returning back home to go to university, which was a very common practice in Sweden at the time,” recalls Henderson. “There were no women in the kitchens in Sweden then, at least not in the north where I lived. Going to culinary school was not something I had heard of or something anyone did where I was from. It never even occurred to me that it was a possible career path. I was moving around life with no direction, taking odd jobs here and there, and cooking was something I knew how to do. I stumbled into it professionally.”

Helene Henderson with her pet pig, Arnold

After doing some modeling and working at a few clothing boutiques in New York, she followed a close friend to Los Angeles. “I did a lot of cooking at home for family and friends and almost accidentally started a catering company,” says Henderson, who began growing and serving veggies from her backyard garden, teaching cooking classes from her home, and spearheading a blog, Malibu Farm, with recipes from the classes.

These days, Henderson has amassed several Malibu Farm restaurants, with outposts in Miami, Lanai, and Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito, and she has two more in the works, with New York’s Pier 17 location set to open this summer and another outside Tokyo opening next year. “I love food, cooking, organizing, planning, serving, bussing tables, and being a hostess,” Henderson says. “It’s always rewarding to see guests and staff begin to incorporate more vegetables and produce into their daily meals.”