Call us food nerds, but we’re fascinated by the talented duo behind Heirloom LA. Tara Maxey and Matt Poley’s genius Lasagna Cupcakes launched them onto every epicurean’s radar in 2009 and they have been keeping the culinary-curious intrigued ever since. They cater some of the most beautiful parties in town, roam the streets in the Heirloom food truck and host private tasting dinners at Silverlake Wine each month that make every foodie’s short list.
What we love most about this team is their commitment to small, local farms. A commitment that is as romantic as it is sustainable. Recently, Heirloom hosted a dinner for one local rancher at their private tasting room in Eagle Rock. Gathering guests inside The Salon and out into the outdoor space beyond it, Heirloom planned courses for the evening around foods from the ranch and decorated the space with natural elements from the rancher’s own property. We asked Tara to share more with us on the local values that inspired this gorgeous dinner along with one of the evening’s best recipes! Here’s Tara…
The Chalkboard Mag: Heirloom is best known for the “lasagna cupcake,” a feat enough on its own, but every time we see your spreads we’re blown away! Tell us more…
Heirloom LA: Thank you so much! We started Heirloom LA four years ago with just a pasta machine and big dreams. Our Lasagna Cupcakes put us on the map because they’re not only adorable, but they are delicious and easy and shippable. We make them in a variety of flavors with fresh pasta and cheeses. All of our food celebrates the beautiful and vibrant ingredients we use.
TCM: What is your food philosophy? What informs your aesthetic and what values go into the food?
HLA: Every dollar spent on food is a political statement. Do you buy organic or commercially-raised produce? Do you support small, humane ranches or corporate agriculture? We all make choices everyday that impact our food system.
We feel so fortunate to be as busy as we are so that we can purchase large quantities of ingredients from farms and ranches that are fiercely sustainable and very passionate about what they do. It costs more to make this choice, and it’s probably not a good business model, but it is the right thing to do. It keeps us inspired about what we create and what we serve.
TCM: Tell us how your tasting room, The Salon, came to be.
HLA: The Salon, our private tasting room, came out of a desire to be able to serve whatever we wanted, however we wanted, as fine dining restaurants do. For our rosé dinner pairing with Caduceus Wine, for example, all the food reflected our color palette for the night: black, pink, orange and red! The entrée was a perfectly grilled pink pork chop from local Cook Pigs Ranch that had the consistency of butter. Little menu challenges like this are fun – even if no one notices except us.
TCM: This recent dinner was a celebration of the local farm, Cook Pigs Ranch. Why is it so important to you to support local farms and ranches?
HLA: I was a strict vegetarian for ten years, mainly because I had read the first chapter of John Robbin’s Diet for a New America. It really opened my eyes to the egregious abuse that is rampant in corporate ranching. Like most Americans, I had no idea. I only started eating meat again when a friend who was a cook at Spago had roasted a whole chicken at his house, explaining that it was organic and free range. As my love for food culture grew, I would eat meat when I knew where it came from. It’s important to me to visit the ranches we support so I can be connected and educate myself and share what I learn. When I met Krystina Cook of Cook Pig’s Ranch in Julian, CA, she let me wander all around her property and take photos. Everything was transparent. She and her husband work so hard to bring respect and integrity to what they do. These are the vendors I want our company to stand behind.
TCM: This menu looked amazing, tell us a bit about it…
HLA: The pigs at Cook Pigs Ranch eat a steady diet of avocados, macadamia nuts or acorns (depending on the season), barley, flour tortilla scraps, apples and apple pie scraps (!), so our menu was a play on these foods as well as traditional fare of Julian, like their hard cider. We wanted guests to really grasp life on this ranch. Most of the décor we used for the tables was from the property.
TCM: What other farms and ranches does Heirloom love?
HLA: There are so many doing really exciting work and they are easy enough to seek out at your local farmer’s market. Ask questions and those with have nothing to hide will answer you with enthusiasm because they are proud of what they do. For our beef, we use 100% pasture raised (as opposed to pasture finished) 5 Bar Beef. McGrath Farms and Weiser Farms are good friends of ours, but we also love Windrose Farms and Coleman Farms and all of the specialty farms that are at Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. We also have garden boxes in our parking lot and a thriving passion fruit vine that covers a chain-link fence. Why water a lawn when you can be growing your dinner?
TCM: Would you share a recipe from the event?
HLA: Sure! Here’s our recipe for cavatelli with sausage ragu and rapini, by our chef, Matt Poley. For the ricotta cavatelli, we sell ours at Silverlake Wine, and at Everson Royce, but readers can also use dry pasta like a fusilli or bow tie.
Cavatelli with Sausage Ragu & Rapini
Serves 4 entrees or 6 first course
1 lb mild Italian sausage
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 pkg (32oz/1 quart by volume of pasta) Heirloom LA Ricotta Cavatelli or substitute your favorite dried or fresh pasta or gnocchi
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
10 leaves sage, sliced in strips
1 cup crème fraiche
1 cup half-and-half
2 cloves garlic, grated on microplane, or finely chopped
1 red onion, minced
2 bunches rapini, broccoli rabe or broccoli, trimmed, washed and blanched lightly
2 oz lemon juice
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
In a large stockpot, bring salted water to a rolling boil. (Tip: Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil to the boiling water to prevent foam overflow when you add the pasta. It will also help prevent the pasta from sticking together.)
For the sauce, sear off the sausage in large skillet over high heat in olive oil by allowing the pan to become very hot prior to adding the oil. Tear sausage into small meatball sized pieces and allow to brown lightly in the pan before moving them around. This will cause them to form into pieces and not release their water content, but rather sear in their flavors. When the meat is golden brown on all sides, add the garlic, onions, butter, sage and one pinch of chili flakes. (Chili flakes are not necessary but they add a nice kick, so be as generous, but remember that while you can always add more, you cannot remove them. Adding them in with the butter will release their oils and they will sweeten the sauce as well as add spice.) Let the onions and garlic become translucent while slowly stirring with a wooden spoon, about 4 minutes. Pour half-and-half, crème fraiche and lemon juice into the sausage skillet and bring to a simmer.
Boil cavatelli 3-4 minutes and strain, reserving 2-3 cups of the salted pasta water. Transfer the pasta to the skillet, add the reserved water and simmer over medium heat until pasta begins to absorb the sauce, approximately 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the parmesan cheese, Italian parsley and rapini, and stir/toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with any remaining herbs, chili flakes or freshly grated cheeses like pecorino or Reggiano and a light olive oil.