Meet the Model-Turned-Chef Behind Malibu Pier's Hottest Restaurant
Swedish-born Helene Henderson began by simply throwing Malibu's coolest parties in her own backyard. When she took over a neglected spot on the Malibu Pier, restaurant magic followed.
Between plucking tomatoes from her garden; feeding the goats, chickens, and sheep at her two-acre hillside farm near the Pacific surf; and dashing to serve up the renowned organic eats at her bustling restaurant and café occupying each end of the Malibu pier, it takes Helene Henderson two breakfasts to get fueled for the day. To kick things off: a smoothie at home after she feeds the animals, then a latte and whole-grain pancakes or seasoned avocado toast from the café's kitchen once she arrives. Now, thanks to a gorgeous cookbook re-released this spring (Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes from the California Coast), a new café location in Lanai, and another coming soon in Miami, Henderson's farm-to-table ethos and creativity is quickly spreading out from the Malibu shore.
The Sweden-born model turned graphic designer turned private chef first built a loyal following with low-key dinner parties thrown in her backyard. Guests would roam about, nibbling on goat cheese–topped pizza near the goat pen and Caprese salad by the thriving tomato plants. It was Henderson's husband, film director John Stockwell, who suggested that she take her dinners to Malibu's then-empty pier, which stretches almost 800 feet out into the ocean. The location has become as much of a draw as the food itself: "People call up and ask for an ocean view," says Henderson, "because they don't realize that every seat has one!"
What started as a six-month popup restaurant became a permanent mainstay of Malibu cuisine as Henderson translated her email lists and social media following into a dedicated group of diners. And thanks to stylish, Scandinavian-inspired interiors, the space itself is an Instagrammer's dream. "People come from all over the world and they may not speak English, but they'll point to a photo on their phones of what they want to order," she says.
And whether the picture is of a burrata-and-tomato salad with lemon-ginger vinaigrette or charred broccoli with pickled chiles and fennel, the ingredients are as fresh and local as possible. "I thought the 30 eggs a day from my chicken coop would be enough for the few people I expected for breakfast," she says. "Now we use 300 a day on weekends!" To keep up, Henderson sources ingredients from local farms, and her homegrown food still makes it into the restaurant kitchen, too. "We'll get surprises from farmers, like 100 pounds of cucumber, and we find ways to use it," she says. "It's all part of the fun!"