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Owner-chef Michael McCarty recalls that when he opened Michael’s Santa Monica in 1979, he was 25 and the area was a “wasteland.” His parents had just moved to Malibu, “so I showed up here on a sunny day and I go, ‘Yep, this’ll work.’”
But the upstart revolutionized California cuisine with open-air dining that was unlike the “European way — little caves with no windows,” McCarty says. He didn’t want tuxedoed uniforms, so Jerry Magnin suggested the young American designer Ralph Lauren.
His restaurant grew up alongside the city and the entertainment industry. “When I opened, I would have the Lew Wassermans, this whole generation of Hollywood would be in the restaurant. Then all of a sudden there were these young Turks that were in their early 30s, and they were new Hollywood. And so it would be like, ‘Hey what’s your name?’ ‘I’m Steven Spielberg.’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I’m Michael Eisner.’ ‘I’m Barry Diller.’ ‘I’m Jeffrey Katzenberg.’”
To celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary, on April 28 from noon to 4 p.m., McCarty is bringing back seven generations of star alumni chefs: Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel, Brooke Williamson, Sang Yoon, Miles Thompson, Roy Yamaguchi, Kazuto Matsusaka, Ryan DeNicola, Zack Bruell, Dorte Lambert, Martin Garcia, Wendy Roskin, Mikey Stern, John-Carlos Kuramoto and Olivier Rousselle. They’ll host a patio tasting experience to benefit No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger (tickets are $150 online).
“I asked them all to do a dish that came from their moment when they were there, that inspired them being at Michael’s, and then how they fleshed out their careers ever since,” McCarty says. Thompson adds that he is excited to be involved in the celebration of Michael’s 40th “to not only be a part of history, but to be cooking alongside greats and adding to the incredible institution.”
The current Michael’s team — chefs Jeff Lustre of Alimento and Matthew Wilson of Sqirl — will serve passed bites as well (the spring 2019 menu features pork shoulder dumplings, sweet chili blue prawns and purple yam gnocchi).
“It’s like restaurant as theater. Every night, the curtain comes back and you rock and roll and have the best time. That’s what we did and we keep doing it,” McCarty says.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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