As one of 2019’s most-anticipated restaurants, Onda opened in Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel this week. Onda is a marriage of sorts, with the noteworthy chefs/co-owners blending their unique tastes into the new restaurant. Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow and distinguished Contramar chef Gabriela Cámara combined their styles with a whimsical nod to Koslow, along with clean, thoughtful dishes from Cámara.
In an interview with Healthyish, the partners discuss the challenges of opening a restaurant in Santa Monica, Cámara living in Mexico while opening an LA restaurant, the logistics of launching another restaurant, and the twice-a-week tastings while developing the menu. Here are the nine best quotes and lines from the Healthyish interview.
Koslow’s vision: “Onda is not a Mexican restaurant. It is rooted in Mexican food.”
Koslow describes Onda’s origins: “When the Proper Hotel suggested to Koslow that she open a second location of Sqirl—her Silver Lake café that launched a new era of California cuisine and a thousand imitators—in their Santa Monica location, the first thing Koslow did is tour the space. Walking around the Spanish colonial building, seven blocks from the ocean, Koslow says she found herself thinking, this feels so much bigger than just Sqirl. It feels like a conversation. That conversation, she thought, could be between two sister cities, places whose cuisines have intertwined for centuries: Los Angeles and Mexico City.”
The chefs methods on collaboration: “When Cámara wanted a gin and tonic on the cocktail list, the women decided that Onda would make the tonic from scratch, and they ran that tonic through the California filter: It would be seasonal based on the fruits and herbs sold at the nearby Santa Monica farmers market. And when Koslow wanted corn nuts on the menu (she grew up eating small ranch-flavored bags after school), they were put through a Mexico lens: tossed in salt made by dehydrating Onda’s house-made hot sauce and sauerkraut.”
Is Onda ‘too hipster’ for Cámara? “I know certain things that do work and certain things that I intuitively know will not work. And I feel that Jessica and I meet at that point. We really want to make something that’s popular. I think that Onda’s going to be a little too hipster for me.”
Expectations for Koslow and a dinner menu: “I think there’s a lot of questions in people’s heads about whether Jessica Koslow can open a dinner restaurant. And maybe that was a question in my own head.”
The complex logistics when one chef spends most of her time in Mexico, with the other in Los Angeles: “It was always understood that the partnership between the two women would not necessarily be equal; Cámara never pretended that she would move to L.A. But everybody thought that Cámara would be a 90-minute trip away, not a four-hour flight that involves going through customs. The move to Mexico—and the stress of packing up her life so that she could move—meant that many of the most crucial decisions about the restaurant, everything from who will work at Onda to what they will wear, fell on Koslow.”
Koslow’s philosophy on what drives a restaurant: “A big thing that I always say is that in order to keep a restaurant sustainable, you have to feed your neighborhood. And you have to feed the world.”
Cámara’s role at Onda: “The reality is that this is more of a consultancy. I know many chefs do restaurants in hotels and consult that way, and I know it’s a global tendency for quote-unquote star chefs to put their faces to projects that they aren’t necessarily close to physically. But, I don’t know...we’ll see. If you’re asking me if I have a project opening in Dubai, Vegas, and Hong Kong? No.”
Koslow on Onda’s first few days of opening: “It really needs to develop, just like any child does. So we’re in the biggest growth period, trying to figure it out.”