Chef / Owner Akasha Richmond
Akasha Richmond settled into the life of a chef quite by accident, and has flourished in this role to become one of Los Angeles’s celebrated culinary names. After moving to LA however many years ago to further her studies in yoga, Akasha, a self-taught chef and baker, began to work at the yogi-owned Golden Temple, a celebrated vegetarian restaurant popular in the 1990s amongst Hollywood’s health-conscious elite. She decided to pursue cooking full-time, and through her work at the restaurant befriended cultural icons such as Michael Jackson, who launched her career as a personal chef, during which she also worked with Barbara Streisand and Billy Bob Thornton. Her experiences and recipes from her time with these celebrities culminated in the publishing of her first cookbook, Hollywood Dish, in 2006.
Richmond is well-known in the Los Angeles food community having spent most of her career as a self-taught chef and baker, as well as the owner of a successful catering business. Richmond has established herself as a celebrated culinary talent and opened her first concept AKASHA in 2008. She places emphasis on the importance of eating local foods utilizing health conscious cooking methods, sustainable practices and dedication to authentic ingredients and products that are sustainable and organic. A longstanding affinity for cuisines from around globe, Richmond has traveled the world taking inspiration back to her kitchen from Southeast Asia, Bali, Australia, as well as Eastern and Western Europe. The author of Hollywood Dish: More than 150 delicious, healthy recipes from Hollywood's chef to the stars (Avery, 2006) she has been featured in Food & Wine and has acted as a guest editor for Vegetarian Times. She continues to consult on numerous natural food product lines while exploring new cooking methods and practices for living a healthier life. She lends her time and expertise to groups such as Share Our Strength, Environmental Media Association, Common Threads and Pediatric Aids. She has appeared on The Food Network (The Best Thing I Ever Ate), Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, Planet Green, and nationwide news programs.
General Manager & Beverage Director, Clare Ward
Clare Ward had a well-grounded youth, growing up in a small Northwestern Tennessee town. Her grandparent’s owned a large property where she regularly helped with the work in the garden and caring for the livestock. When they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, Clare discovered the excitement of the big city. Louisville, like the rest of Tennessee, has deep roots in the spirit-making world where aficionados come world-over to visit the Bourbon Trail, the Urban Bourbon Trail, the Kentucky Derby and a revitalized downtown showcasing the exceptional art of bourbon.
Clare started her career working in Louisville restaurants until she moved to Ohio to pursue a degree in Performance Art from the University of Cincinnati. Cincinnati was where Clare first learned about bartending, honing her skills at a local Italian restaurant. The basic training she received there afforded little opportunity to prepare other than the most standard of popular cocktails. She soon became eager test her own creativity and moved to California to seek opportunity and 365 days a year of sunshine.
In Los Angeles, she quickly found a position bartending at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, a trendy neighborhood on Los Angeles’ west side. She then moved next door to work at AKASHA, under Chef/Owner Akasha Richmond’s guidance and encouragement. Working with Akasha opened up a whole new world. The craft cocktail movement was influencing restaurants throughout the city and Clare wanted to bring her own ideas to AKASHA’s bar program. Akasha mentored her in seasonal selections, taking time to teach Clare to make syrups and bitters. She brought her to farmers’ markets and taught her about selecting and using local produce and herbs. When Sāmbār, Akasha’s Indian influenced restaurant opened in the former Ford’s Filling Station space, Akasha chose Clare to lead the bar program. Together, the two collaborate on creating menu-complementing libations by infusing cocktails with vindaloos, masalas and other Indian spices that got attention around the country for their originality.
After nearly a year, Akasha decided to re-concept Sāmbār and change the style to one of her favorites – rustic Italian cooking – and AR Cucina was born. Clare again leads the cocktail program and embraces the challenge of contemporizing classic Italian cocktails with fresh ideas and innovative recipes.
Clare Ward lives in Culver City not far from AR cucina. When she’s at the restaurant, she’s probably kayaking or hiking somewhere around Southern California looking for a new adventure.
Chef de Cuisine, Chris Keyser
"All in,” that’s how Chef Chris Keyser rolls. He grew up in Troy, New York, where the restaurant scene was limited to roadside diners feeding the regular passerby. The one fine dining restaurant served classic French food. Chris had no experience in food or restaurants, but managed to land a job in the kitchen and absorbed the methods and knowledge of French cooking techniques, leading him to enroll in the culinary program at Schenectady College.
In 2009, Chris moved to Chianti in Saratoga Springs working under Chef Fabrizio Bazzani, who exposed him to the merits and purity of Italian cooking. Chris was a quick study, learning all aspects of the kitchen including pasta and butchering fine local Hudson Valley meat and game. Eager to learn more, he did a short turn at a USDA slaughterhouse, followed by stints at Oyster House and the extremely popular 677 Prime in Albany. Then he discovered Philadelphia Chef Marc Vetri’s cookbook about Italy, Il Viaggio di Vetri, which changed his life.
He impulsively made the trek from Albany to Philadelphia in five hours and knocked on the door at Vetri’s Osteria. He was put to work and Chris spent the next four years working for Vetri in various positions at his Philadelphia restaurants, manning the wood-fire grill, maintaining the bread and salumi programs, heading up the extensive house-made pasta catalogue and assisting in the opening teams for several restaurants in Philadelphia and Palo Alto, California.
Exposed to California produce and at the urging of his girlfriend, he decided to move to Los Angeles in 2017. His first opportunity with Italian-cooking Chef Steve Samson didn’t pan out but his friend Chef Evan Funke referred him to Akasha Richmond who fell in love with Chris’ cooking and his ideas and hired him as Chef de Cuisine at her Culver City restaurant, AR cucina. “Eating Chris’s pasta takes me to Italy every time. He is such a natural with pasta, I have never seen anything quite like it,” says Akasha. He loves his new environment and, with the support and collaboration of Akasha, he is incorporating new dishes to the menu – Malloreddus Pasta with Lamb Ragu; Fettucini with Tuna Carpaccio and Pistachio Relish; Peaches, Goat Cheese and Grilled Radicchio; Grilled Trout with Lemon Sauce; and Pork Chop ‘Valdostana’ Stuffed with Fontina and Prosciutto – making an impact among diners.
Looking to future menu development, Chris is working on fresh concepts for pasta, pizza and breads and looks forward to exploring and testing them with Akasha Richmond. He explains his approach to cooking in Southern California this way, “Italians cook with what’s around them so I imagine I’m an Italian dropped in California. And I ask myself the question, ‘what would an Italian do?’ Simple food, great technique, awesome local ingredients, that’s my style of cooking.” Today at AR cucina, the outlook is sunny with what Chris brings to the table.