What’s new in Michael McCarty’s garden of California cuisine: Miles Thompson takes over as chef

Chef Miles Thompson, photographed at Allumette in Echo Park, has taken over as chef at Michael's in Santa Monica.
Chef Miles Thompson, photographed at Allumette in Echo Park, has taken over as chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

Chef musical chairs is a fast-moving game, so it can be easy to lose track of just who’s cooking where, especially these days, when the restaurants themselves are often as migratory as the people in the kitchen. Some chefs and some restaurants, though, are worth tracking, particularly when the juxtaposition is noteworthy.

Consider the news that chef Miles Thompson, now all of 28, began cooking at the 37-year-old Michael’s restaurant in Santa Monica on Monday. Thompson has had a very fast rise in the L.A. dining scene, opening Allumette in Echo Park in 2012 after cooking at Nobu, Animal and Son of a Gun, then launching the well-regarded pop-up the Vagrancy Project. In its two years, Allumette appeared on most Los Angeles restaurant best-of lists, as well as Bon Appétit magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2013. Thompson’s cooking was inventive, progressive and deeply ambitious, and when Allumette closed, in 2014, and the chef left Los Angeles, his absence was felt — not unlike when Ari Taymor closed Alma (it’s since reopened in a now-permanent residency) or when Jordan Kahn exited the kitchens of Red Medicine.

Now Michael McCarty, whose Michael’s helped pioneer what came to be called California cuisine, has tapped Thompson as the latest in a long line of remarkable chefs. This isn’t kitchen hyperbole: Those who’ve trailed apron strings through McCarty’s kitchen include Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel, Nancy Silverton, Roy Yamaguchi, Kazuto Matsusaka, Ken Frank, Sally Clarke, Brooke Williamson and Sang Yoon. Which explains some why McCarty — along with Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck — was so instrumental in pioneering the farmers-market-driven cuisine that we all now take for granted. But it’s been a long time since those chefs decamped: Waxman has been at Barbuto for years, Silverton has gone from the now-shuttered Campanile to Mozza, and Yoon’s Lukshon is now celebrating its fifth anniversary.


Thompson has already started cooking, though his resulting new menu won’t debut until next month, and spending as much time as you’d think at the Santa Monica farmers markets — conveniently walking distance from the restaurant. He and McCarty will close Michael’s the last week of August and for the first 12 days of September to reboot the system, which for McCarty includes playing with all the magnificent art on the walls. (The restaurant could double as a museum, with art from David Hockney, Robert Graham, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and Dennis Hopper, among others.)

“What’s so cool about this restaurant is it’s iconic; it’s a historical place,” Thompson said after a market run on Wednesday. “Michael was a game-changer. I want to make modern California food,” the chef said, explaining why he and his wife have come back to Los Angeles after working for a year in Healdsburg, in Northern California, and then for nine months in the Caribbean in St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What I like about California modern cuisine is that it’s food in high-definition,” Thompson said as he sat in the garden patio in the back of Michael’s. Surrounded by lush greenery outside, and museum-caliber art inside — and the kitchen that has functioned as the gateway for some of the most important chefs in this town — it’s maybe fitting that the chef was thinking about the specificity of details. Imagine what that’s going to look like on the plate.

Michael’s, 1147 3rd St, Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843,


How to throw an Israeli-SoCal mezze party


Burmese cooking gets creative at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner in Silver Lake

What an unusual vegetable; what is it? Flip open Michelle McKenzie’s ‘Dandelion & Quince’ cookbook to find out


7:25 a.m. Aug. 6: This article was updated to clarify that Thompson’s new menu at Michael’s will begin in September.

This article was originally published at 2:35 p.m. Aug. 5.