Founder, Malibu Farm
As the humble captain behind the brand, Malibu Farm, Founder Helene Henderson joyously celebrates the launch of her latest outpost at New York City’s South Street Seaport. As its leader, Henderson strives for Malibu Farm to live up to its ethos while enabling distinct yet familiar personalities at each location. “Every dining room has a sense of comfort like dining at home,” she explains. She brings to the city her classic dishes alongside local specialties inspired by her backyard farm dinners on the coast of Southern California.
Nowadays while she spends more time directing the overall concept than cooking on the line, she ensures the guiding mentality that began in her backyard always stays on the front burner. “You can take me out of the backyard,” she says, “but you’ll never take the backyard out of me!” Henderson relies on organic, natural ingredients including whole wheat flour, whole grains, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables to carry through Malibu Farm’s mission of serving food with integrity.
Originally from northern Sweden, Henderson grew up in the coastal city of Lulea. She spent many of her days fishing alongside her uncle and foraging, farming, pickling, and smoking traditional Swedish foods with her grandmother. She joined her mother in the restaurant as a teenager, and, though she had never seen a woman take charge of a commercial kitchen, found herself drawn to its magic. Actually, Henderson never much considered a career in cooking until much later on. Instead, she came to New York City in 1979 and found herself modeling and working retail. After later moving to Los Angeles, she worked in the entertainment industry at Cannon Films and as a graphic designer for film at Title House.
In the mid-’90s, a friend asked her to help cook for a dinner party and before she knew it, others started hiring her to do the same. She established Lavender Farms Catering in 1995, learning on the fly and soon taking on jobs for movie studios, corporate events, celebrities, and more, with initial clients including Christie’s, Universal Studios, and Barbra Streisand. More than a decade later, with all kinds of cooking experience under her belt, Henderson moved away from the dainty appetizers, haute menus, and client directives of catering. From 2007 until opening her restaurant, she served as a private chef for two separate studio executives, offering her more creative freedom and a more relaxed environment. It also provided her everything she needed to know to write a menu and “cook for the people, not for your ego,” she explains.
Henderson began Malibu Farm just where one would expect—at her farm in Malibu, on Point Dume. Funded by a small inheritance from her mother, it began as a few cooking classes held in her free time and recipes posted on her blog. That grew to include farm dinners in her backyard. The success of the naturally evolving concept encouraged her to stage a pop-up in 2013 at the Malibu Pier. Her original commitment turned into a two-year run garnering long lines and praise from critics and diners alike. Expanding to the restaurant and bar space closer to the shore, Henderson continues to provide counter, bar, and table service at the now-iconic location. Fulfilling a promise to her late mother, Henderson holds a traditional Swedish Santa Lucia event in Malibu every year.
As the Malibu Farm brand expanded—in California, at Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village and Montecito’s Rosewood Miramar Beach resort; in Hawaii at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai; and in Florida at Nobu Eden Roc Miami Beach hotel—Henderson maintained strong affinity for the coast, choosing only waterfront locations. That thread continues its weave in NYC, with Malibu Farm’s launch at the South Street Seaport. Henderson revels in her full-circle return to The Big Apple, where she first came to the country looking for a new life.
Yet, even as her restaurant spreads from coast to coast, Henderson remains locally rooted at Malibu Farm itself. There, on the California coast where she began the journey, she maintains a flock of free-range chickens; a pig named Arnold; some sheep; bees; two dogs, Jocko and Stanley; and goats, Casey and Cloud, who enjoy walking on the beach and participating in Point Dume’s annual Fourth of July parade. In her free time, Henderson enjoys being with her husband, John Stockwell, and children, Celia, Casper, and Caden.