Chef Brian Bornemann and interdisciplinary artist Leena Culhane met in the middle of 2020 in Santa Monica’s Hotchkiss Park. Unbeknownst to them their paths had crossed invisibly numerous times in the ten years since they attended UCLA together. The two Westsiders quickly bonded over their love of surfing, sustainability, and simple, honest food.
Bornemann, formerly the Executive Chef at Michael’s, The Tasting Kitchen, and farm-to-table pioneer, Potager, is no stranger to embracing local, seasonal ingredients. Culhane, a musician and artist, spent the last decade exploring natural wines and genuine hospitality working as a bartender between tours from her home bases in Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee.
In a year of great challenge and seemingly unanswerable questions, the two creatives felt inspired to take matters into their own hands, using the mental and physical space available to create Crudo e Nudo, an Italian-inspired raw bar and pandemic pop-up. With “The Birth of Venus” serving as a metaphorical true north of inspiration, Crudo e Nudo was likewise born of turbulent seas to offer something beautiful. Sourcing local fish from sustainable purveyors, the two began hosting vibrant, socially distant evenings from Venice to Echo Park while utilizing the outdoor spaces of new partnerships – primarily bars looking to add a culinary component to keep their own operations afloat. This spirit of communities supporting one another and environmentally-minded practices became the heart of Crudo e Nudo.
They believe it’s our responsibility to create the future we want to see: where small businesses work together to build a sustainable economy that feeds our community in many ways. They offer the best of the produce grown by our long-term partners at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market to the seafood caught by our friends. They are building this company on trust, transparency, our connection to one another and our community, and our ethical responsibility to this planet.
Tell us a bit about your journey. How did you both arrive at becoming chefs/curators?
Both Brian and I had spent parts of our past in the restaurant scene. He’s always appreciated good food with a value of locality, and was a brilliant chef prior to Crudo E Nudo. I have a love for natural wines and bartended a bit when I was home from my music tours, so creating the vision of Crudo E Nudo came with informative and creative thoughts from us both!
What inspires your creativity on a daily basis?
Being in nature, our relationships, and being nourished by the creativity of others in music, books, restaurants, art, architecture, movement and mindfulness practices – everything that has soul! Los Angeles is such a melting pot, and we are incredibly lucky to have access to a world of cultures by being connected to people from far and wide here. Food is a beautiful way to embrace the intersection of creativity and community because we get to meet so many new people doing what we do with neighbors, coworkers, regulars, and folks that are just passing through. With openness, inspiration is everywhere.
What was it like turning your passion for food into a restaurant?
The pandemic afforded us a really unique opportunity to take a big risk in a time when we felt we had very little to lose. Brian has such a passion, not just for the food, but for the business of running restaurants. Because we both had worked in traditional restaurants for so long, we knew we wanted to do things differently when it came to opening our own place with Crudo e Nudo. Having a clear intention has not always given us the easiest route forward operationally because we had to dismantle an old system to build something new and then get a bunch of people on-board with it! Thankfully it has guided our purpose and growth in a strong way, and we’ve been really fortunate to build strong teams of folks who are equally passionate about our goals.
What does your day-to-day entail to support your company?
Brian and I both do a lot of admin to support Crudo, especially now that we are growing and have a really great team in place to make the place run when we are not physically in the space. When I am in the shop, I’m very hands-on. I do whatever is needed to support the day, from working on the line to washing dishes to arranging the flowers and giving the space fresh life. My favorite way to support Crudo is in creating the vibe, but it’s a big job. I do all the design for our spaces physically, digitally, and across the brand. I also helm the email account for inquiries, reservations, and catering. I love wearing many hats but I won’t lie – I need more sleep.
What’s one of your daily routines you’ve found to be especially grounding or life-giving?
Exercise first thing most days. I have to exercise or my day doesn’t feel quite right until I do. I like getting up early and moving in a way that feels supportive to my nervous system so the type varies. Surfing, hiking, yoga, and weight training are all ways that I am able to connect with myself and tune in/out/down as needed.
What’s been your favorite part about Crudo e Nudo?
Working with talented, passionate people and creating a lovely space for our community to be together.
What kind of food or meal do you most enjoy together?
We bounced around southern Italy together in the fall of last year and have been basically trying to recreate our trip every night since (ha!). We rented a car and drove through Puglia, eating and swimming along the whole way. It was heaven. We like to eat the kinds of food and wine we sell – simple, local, and brought to life by people who care.
What’s the best piece of advice someone else has given you about your vocational journey?
Go slow to go fast. Delegate. Continually find something to soften.
Are there any goals you both are excited about working toward right now?
We just opened our second restaurant on Main Street called Isla. We are really excited to grow the practices, culture, and micro-economies we supported with Crudo. Now we just keep turning the dials!
Favorite place to visit to spark inspiration?
Traveling anywhere sparks food inspiration for me!
Color or neutrals?
Favorite space in your home?
My music studio. It doubles as a guest room/workout room, but the focus for me is purely creative most days out of the week.
It’s hard to choose one – but your favorite wine right now?
L’archetipo, Susumante. It’s a sparkling rose made by our friends that just knocks it right outta the park.
Oyster Set Up:
Splash of Pedro Jimenez Vinegar
Splash of Molino Lemon Oil
Caramelized Beet Confit:
white or regular soy
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Rinse a beet thoroughly. Remove the top and dice. Over low heat, sweat the beet in olive oil, along with a small diced shallot until softly cooked through (20 min) Finish with white soy (or regular soy) to taste.