When Sweden-born Helene Anderson started teaching cooking classes in her backyard in 2008, she did it as a hobby to share wholesome recipes with reverence to small and local farms. At the time, she was already a private chef with an established roster of clients.
“The name Malibu Farm came from me posting the class recipes online,” shares Henderson. “My blog needed a name, and so I thought: I live in Malibu, I got chickens, goats and a pig, a vegetable garden, a small vineyard and a fruit orchard. And so Malibu Farm, the blog, was born.”
The locavore-centric classes and dinners struck a chord with the community and Henderson’s following grew. In a few years, Malibu Farm launched a cookbook, and built a restaurant and counter-service cafe? on both ends of Malibu Pier. Among her avid diners was Larry Ellison, the tech mogul who famously purchased most of Lana‘i in 2012. When renovating the Manele Bay property, Ellison desired to create a second home of sorts and lured Henderson, along with neighboring Nobu restaurant (another one of his hometown favorites), to consider expanding across the Pacific. Henderson was charmed by the opportunity and teamed up with the Nobu restaurant group to sprout the Malibu Farm empire. A South Florida outpost is set to open at the Nobu Hotel in Miami.
Sweden and Lana‘i might be quite a contrast, but Henderson gathered some commonalities she could relate to. “I grew up in the very north of Sweden and in some ways Lana‘i reminds me of home even though it is worlds apart,” says Henderson. “Lulea, where I grew up, is also a small town, and at the time it had one major employer. We fished lots of salmon and herring, and we hunted. There is tons of elk and deer. So, in some ways, it was very similar to Lana‘i. The diﬀerence in weather, well, that is worlds apart. Although I love snow and the darkness of winter solstice, you can’t beat the year-round climate of Hawai‘i.”
While Malibu Farm’s Los Angeles outpost’s gleaming Scandinavian design pays homage to Henderson’s Nordic roots, the Lana‘i space naturally blends with the hotel’s chic tropical aesthetic. A stone’s throw away from the pool with an idyllic view of Hulopoe Bay, diners are treated to the same ocean-side al fresco perfection. Chef de cuisine Nick Magaoay helms the kitchen’s daily operation and directs seasonal tweaks to the menu. The oﬀering caters to the discerning globetrotters—it is a Four Seasons after all—with a fondness for plant-based dining and respect to locality. The flavors are bright and clean, and play nicely with fresh-pressed seasonal fruits that are also crafted into boozy indulgences.
“I love the simplest preparations, and always aim for the food to feel home made rather than restaurant made,” shares Henderson. “As a Swede, I, of course, love potatoes more than anything and fell fast and hard in love with the Hawai‘i purple sweet potatoes. I always love a smorgasbord of many things, so we try to include a small salad, and potatoes on every plate as a very minimum.”
There is traditionally prepared poke topped with avocado slices that you scoop up with furikake potato chips. A good heap of raw, shredded Brussels sprouts salad is hearty and works beautifully with toasted shaved almonds, and crispy pancetta while lemon mustard vinaigrette gives a jolt of acidity. A craveable salad of papaya, arugula and shreds of burrata is tossed with sweet balsamic vinaigrette and flecked with candied macadamia nuts for textured sweetness. Th e vegan chop salad is a loaded rainbow of local beets, butternut squash, avocado, garbanzos and mixed greens tossed with zesty red wine vinaigrette. Th e open-faced venison slider is a standout with a juicy three-ounce patty, on top of wheat toast, layered with caramelized onion, Havarti cheese, spicy aioli and a cornichon on top. Th inly sliced cauliflower blankets a lavash flatbread, with a trifecta of cheddar, jack and goat cheese, a heap of arugula and slivers of red radishes from the resort’s organic garden.
The garden, where Henderson taught cooking classes during the last holidays, is robust with your basic herbs as well as summer lettuce, noodle beans, okra, chili pepper, eggplant and tomatoes. Sprawling vines of Malabar spinach are a great alternative to regular spinach because of its resilience to tropical heat. Blood-red radishes are also in constant rotation for the restaurant, and the wild hibiscus flowers and Th ai basil might just pop up in a future cocktail.
On most of the mains, you’ll find a staple blend of white rice and black quinoa, plus fingerling and Moloka‘i sweet potatoes. Local fish is served grilled and glazed with a luscious miso tahini, served with pickled ginger and charred shishito peppers; and the soy-marinated skirt steak comes with vibrant pickled root vegetables.
For dessert, the golden saﬀron gelato made with coconut milk and topped with papaya or grilled chocolate cake with caramel sauce and hints of sea salt both lend an earthy finish to the meal.
Soon, the restaurant will be able to source much of its produce from the hydroponic greenhouses currently being built and ready for its first planting season. Ellison has invested $15 million dollars in the project to move forward with bigger plans for the island’s sustainability. “Th is is ultimately his legacy,” shares director of landscaping Robert Woodman who graciously led a garden tour during a quick island hop from Maui. “When he leaves the world, he wants to be remembered for something like this, what he’s done for Lana‘i in terms of sustainability. He wants to get oﬀthe grid and produce our own power through solar panels. He is listening to the community, understanding their needs and trying to collaborate.”
“The first crop will be a test crop and then we will be oﬀto the races designing our menus according to the magic they grow,” said Henderson. “It really is an honor and I am thrilled to be part of this journey, which brings amazing produce to Lana‘i.”