Above: Photographed by Liam Brown
Margarita Kallas-Lee may not be as well known as her husband, the serial entrepreneur Phillip Frankland Lee, but she is every bit as much the masterful chef. While he is viewed as the front man to their chain of eateries (which include Scratch|Bar & Kitchen and Pasta|Bar here in the Valley, and Sushi|Bar in Montecito), she is quietly working behind the scenes, creating beautifully assembled, decadent pastries and desserts. One day she might be making her much-ballyhooed, fresh-baked sourdough bread with a 60-year-old starter. On another day, it’s an eggplant hued corn cake made from organic purple corn flour, brown butter, caramel and lemon thyme, topped with apple sherbet.
Above: Photographed by Liam Brown and John Troxel
“For me, as cheesy as this is going to sound, inspiration comes from anything,” Margarita explains. “A photograph, a story, a place I’m at currently. A smell. Sometimes it is as simple as trying an ingredient that I haven’t tried before.”
The pastry chef says that her roots greatly influenced her appreciation for all things culinary. She grew up splitting time between two farms—one in Latvia and the other in the Ukraine—and she easily rattles off memories:
“The salmon roe toasts my mom would make for me in the morning before kindergarten while she made herself coffee in our beautiful kitchen in Kiev,” she recalls. “And summer nights on the farm when my great-grandmother made just the freshest, most delicious salads entirely from what she grew in her garden.”
She became a vegetarian in high school and started teaching herself how to make an array of raw desserts.
“I would cook for all my friends, which eventually led to baking treats and bringing them to my friends at school,” she said. “I loved it so much that I began to self-educate by reading baking books.”
Margarita attended culinary school in New York until she reconnected with Phillip—the two had attended school as kids here in the Valley.
The couple moved to Chicago, where she learned the ropes of working in a professional kitchen before moving back to the Valley and opening Scratch|Bar & Kitchen, Sushi|Bar, and finally Pasta|Bar, which boldly debuted in the middle of the pandemic (scratchrestaurants.com). And the couple’s chain continues to expand. In the past year, they’ve opened eateries in Austin, Texas, and Bangkok, Thailand. In her signature soft-spoken style, Margarita takes it all in stride.
“We like to focus on what’s in front of us and seize as many opportunities as possible. Otherwise life would be kind of boring, right?”
Above: Photographed by Monica Orozco
She may cook for a living, but do not refer to Anais Goldberg as a chef. Anais insists that title should be reserved for people who graduate from culinary school. However, her thousands of social media followers don’t care. Nor do her Zoom cooking lesson students.
Anais teaches how to make everything from collard green wraps to rack of lamb, a family favorite—all with a no-nonsense sensibility that is guided by personal tastes rather than exact recipe measurements.
“Beans take a long-ass time to cook, even in the pressure cooker,” she warns in one post. “Don’t kid yourself that it takes 30 minutes like the instructions say. It doesn’t.”
Anais first learned to cook from her Cuban grandmother. While she is also of Mexican heritage, she says the flavors of Cuba tend to dominate her palate. “Cumin, oregano, lots of lemon, paprika—Cuban food is very similar to Spanish food.”
Being a person who has built a career around food is something of a surprise to the always-bejeweled mom of three. In her earlier years, Anais had something of a love-hate relationship with food. She struggled with her weight in high school. Later, she went on the South Beach Diet and focused on a “low-carb way of eating.” She also suffered from a low-thyroid condition, but says when she read the book The Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry, MD, which espouses a lectin-free diet, her health improved.
“I looked better than I had ever had in my life,” she says. “That opened me up to the knowledge that some foods are highly inflammatory, and I can’t tolerate those.”
It wasn’t until recent years that she began to see her passion for food as her calling. A neighbor, who happened to be a business coach, helped her make that discovery.
“She asked, ‘What do you like to do?’” Anais says. “I said, ‘I’m good at cooking, but I never show anybody that because I don’t want to be a showoff.’ She said, ‘That’s not being a showoff. If that’s your gift, why not let people know?’”
It was all the validation Anais needed. She began teaching online cooking classes from her Sherman Oaks home last summer to check in with friends during the shutdown and now offers a variety of Zoom classes (cookwithanais.podia.com). Some are focused on minimizing inflammation; others help participants “detox” from sugar addictions. She aims to show her students that they don’t have to radically restrict their diets.
“You just have to change your mindset,” she insists.
For Gina Clarke-Helm, a whirlwind life as a model, in a roundabout way, prepared her for a career as head chef and owner of the events/catering company Malibu Seaside Chef (malibuseasidechef.com). She says jaunts to destinations including Italy, Paris and Germany helped open her eyes and her palate to a whole new world.
“I had been exposed to so many different cultures and foods and traditions that I just started thinking about my future after modeling,” she says.
It wasn’t just exposure. Gina paid attention, observing the work of international chefs she met on her travels, which helped her to develop her own technique. Eventually, she apprenticed under famed Italian chef Giuliano Bugialli at Granita, Wolfgang Puck’s Malibu restaurant.
Whether she’s catering a birthday party for a showbiz or sports luminary (Brian Grazer and Joe Montana are clients) or an event for a large corporation, Gina makes it completely custom—from the playlist to the menu.
“I create an experience that’s unique,” she says. “So it’s not just a menu that is just pulled off my website. It’s a menu that is detailed for each of my clients with their dietary needs—even their friends’ dietary needs.”
Often those needs take her on the road. “I source my ingredients at all the farmers markets,” she says. “I go to the Valley, Malibu, Santa Monica, so I am sourcing from the top places.”
It is no surprise that the pandemic shutdown changed her business. It wasn’t just the dearth of parties and events. Gina is the wife of a first responder and has a three-year-old daughter at home. Never one to rest on her laurels, she pivoted to meal delivery. It was challenging at first, but after she got a couple of British royals as clients, things started picking up. “That kind of saved me mentally because it gave me back my creative outlet.”