Chef Fernando Darin’s body is in a state of ketosis. By consuming a strict diet of mostly fat and few carbohydrates, the chef is prompting his body to access fat stores instead of blood sugar for its energy. As the executive chef at Mother Tongue, the new restaurant perched atop the 75,000-square-foot, five-level fitness club called Heimat in Hollywood, Darin’s first-hand experience with the ketogenic diet, previous experimentations with veganism and vegetarianism, and career-long curiosity to understand how food can impact health will come in handy.
Mother Tongue, which opens on Monday, June 20 on North La Brea Avenue, is a partnership between RSG Group (the company behind multiple fitness and lifestyle brands, including Gold’s Gym) and TableOne Hospitality (an offshoot of chef Michael Mina’s eponymous restaurant group). Though Heimat’s facilities and services, which includes a premium gym and instructors, spa services, and communal gathering spaces, can only be accessed by club members paying $300 each month, the restaurant is open to the public daily. There’s even an elevator that takes diners straight from the underground parking lot to the restaurant’s private entrance, says Mina.
Designed by renowned architect Martin Brudnizki, the rooftop space includes a lounge pool and jacuzzi, in addition to Mother Tongue. The indoor dining room and bar seats well over 100 people, while the 1,500-square-foot patio and bar can accommodate up to 60 more. The space offers panoramic views across the city.
With nearly 40 restaurants across the U.S. in Mina’s extensive portfolio, including three existing concepts in Los Angeles (Bourbon Burger Bar and Bourbon Steak in Glendale, the Bungalow Kitchen by Michael Mina in Long Beach), the prolific chef could have easily dialed in the menu for Mother Tongue: grilled chicken breast, steamed vegetables, green juice, avocado toast, done. But instead, he tapped a 15-year hospitality veteran and former executive chef at Patina to take the reins in creating and executing the restaurant’s comfort food menu, which draws myriad influences from Asia, South America, the Middle East, and more.
Though Heimat promotes a very specific high-end wellness lifestyle that is “geared toward an experiential clientele,” says Mina, Mother Tongue is hoping to appeal to diners beyond the club’s crowd. “The goal was interesting, craveable, exciting food that has good technique behind it, has great product behind it, that has some foundation behind the thinking of how the dish was created.”
Darin’s diverse array of dishes range from approachable (like a vegetable couscous and chicken noodle soup) to more unexpected (like Thai larb and moqueca, a seafood stew from the chef’s native Brazil). Choices abound for those with specific dietary needs, including keto, anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan. “We are a very inclusive kitchen and a very inclusive menu,” says Darin. “We’re going to have a lot of plant-based [dishes], but we also have a good amount of meat dishes and fish.” (Mother Tongue’s dinner and dessert menus are below.)
Regardless of personal dietary preferences, all diners can anticipate dishes prepared using well-sourced ingredients. “I like to call us a responsible kitchen,” says Darin. The chef makes a conscious effort to source all of Mother Tongue’s ingredients locally, organically, and sustainably, wherever he can. That means pesticide-free produce grown in nutrient-rich soil and meat sourced from purveyors that “treat the animals correctly,” Darin says.
Beyond making Mother Tongue a commercial success, Darin’s chief goal is to create “a good working environment,” especially for his team of cooks. “I want to give them really great opportunities to express themselves,” he says. To create a more cohesive dynamic among all staff members, Darin eschews the traditional division between the front and back of house. All employees are on “one team,” he says. The cooks, who are employed by RSG Group, earn above minimum-wage pay at a level commensurate with experience. Dining room staffers, who are also employed by RSG Group, earn minimum wage with tips pooled and divided evenly. The staff can propose changes to the tipping structure “to create an environment that is fair and reasonable for all team members” after 60 to 90 days, says Robert Villanueva, the restaurant’s director of food and beverage. Health benefits are available to full-time staffers after 60 days of employment.
While it’s easy to get lost in the jargon surrounding the health and wellness industrial complex, Mother Tongue makes it easy to eat well without wondering whether a food is “super,” “clean,” or “whole.” Just drive to Hollywood, take the high-speed elevator to the topmost floor, and leave the rest to Mother Tongue’s team. “I was counting the other day, we have seven different languages being spoken in the kitchen,” says Darin. “If that’s not Mother Tongue, I don’t know what is.”