Jordan Kahn rebirths Vespertine, now anchored by nature and nutrition

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Spring is an early course on the reopening menu of Jordan Kahn's Vespertine. Photo courtesy of Vespertine.

Jordan Kahn's earliest memories in the kitchen are at the side of his Cuban grandmother, who grew herbs, peppers, and sour oranges in the backyard. In his middle school years, he became enamored of the chefs on PBS like Graham Kerr, Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, and Martin Yan, and began cooking dinner for his family. When he was 13, his mother gave him a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas.

"Obviously being born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, we knew nothing of The French Laundry. I really knew nothing of French gastronomy and that very day changed my life entirely. From there I was obsessed, and knew immediately that's where my path would lead," Kahn says. 

Vespertine chef/owner Jordan Kahn remembers how a Christmas present from his mother changed the course of his life. Photo by The Gry Space.

Kahn discovered the waffle-like building designed by architect Eric Owen Moss while negotiating traffic in Culver City. His dreams of Vespertine began then. "I pulled over, got out of the car, looked at this thing, and wondered what it was — some sort of strange draw to this place, almost like Richard Dreyfuss making the mashed potatoes mounds in Close Encounters," Kahn says. "It was some strange energetic draw that I couldn't otherwise explain."

Jordan Kahn was using Waze when he encountered the Waffle, which now houses Vespertine. Photo courtesy of Vespertine.

Kahn describes "birthing" Vespertine by taking the notion of a restaurant and changing its framework, which he describes as "using a meal as a means to experience deeper realms of the human consciousness." By altering the environment that looks, smells, and feels like a restaurant and moving it into an alternate space, guests change the approach of how they will receive dinner, he believes. 

Kahn describes the opening as "exhilarating, intoxicating, and scary," and early reviews ran the spectrum. He remembers one of the architects telling him, "Any time you're moving the goalpost, you're inviting raised eyebrows." Kahn cites Jonathan Gold's acknowledgment of Vespertine as the best restaurant in Los Angeles in 2017 as a career highlight. 

A mussel dish from the Vespertine 2.0 menu. Photo courtesy of Vespertine.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how Kahn would realize the future of the restaurant. When Vespertine shuttered, the chef thought it would be an impossible task to translate the menu to a takeout format. He credits his wife for encouraging him by suggesting that he instead translate who he was into takeout. "That meant cooking from the heart, which is where it all comes from, and that meant my grandmother," he says. 

Retrospective takeout menus explored both his Cuban and Sicilian heritage and his first tasting menu meal at The French Laundry, but began with a Red Medicine tribute, Kahn's restaurant in Beverly Hills. "We found we were creating deeper connections with guests in a sequestered situation than we even were when they were in the restaurant." That approach has informed Vespertine 2.0.

Guests visit multiple spaces during the Vespertine experience, ending on the first floor for the dessert courses. Photo by Stephen Paul.

The restaurant serves roughly 32 guests a night, who visit multiple spaces during the experience. Since reopening on April 2, a handful of guests have already made multiple visits. Music is an integral part of the experience. "It helps to create the world that we want people to be traveling in," Kahn says. To create the appropriate sonic environment, Kahn enlisted composers Paul Corley and CJ Baran as well as Jónsi of Icelandic band Sigur Rós.