ARI KOLENDER got his start in name drop–worthy kitchens like Los Angeles’ Providence, where he worked the line for five years before joining chef Jordan Khan’s restaurant Red Medicine as Chef de Cuisine. But after two years at the Beverly Hills powerhouse, Kolender returned to his native South Carolina. “I spent an incredible four years back home exploring so many cultures and traditions I wasn’t privy to growing up, and I loved it,” says Kolender. “But then I moved back to California, because I liked it more.”
Kolender’s return to the West Coast finds him at the helm of his own project: Hayden in Culver City. According to Kolender, “Hayden has European café roots, California inspiration, and a heavilyJapanese pantry.” “It falls into the loose category of New American cuisine . . . not that I’m sure what exactly that means,” he adds with a laugh.
Grown out of the need Kolender saw for a community watering hole, Hayden sits within a shared retail/culinary/creative space known as PLATFORM, where it’s separated from an adjacent shop by a wine wall. “There’s no real structure, which makes it a perfect restaurant for me,” Kolender says. “I knew Hayden could be contoured exactly how we wanted it.”
It’s a concept that’s of paramount importance to a chef whose ethos revolves around incorporating the surrounding environment. “We want to pioneer what’s happening in the community,” says Kolender, elbow deep in dates he’s wrapping with bacon for an upcoming seasonal special. Plans in the works at Hayden include live music, an outdoor bar setup, and a mobile oyster cart to use in the warmer months. That’s not to say the restaurant’s ambition isn’t facing some challenges, one being that it has no hood or gas (though it does have a waffle iron, a rice cooker, a toaster, and an induction burner). “This is limiting in a lot of ways,” admits Kolender, “but there’s also a freedom to use really high-end, locally-sourced ingredients and let their flavors shine through.”