There’s something peculiar that happens when you dine at Otium. As you walk down the pavement and pass the peaceful courtyard in front of the restaurant, you’ll feel the atmosphere begin to change. Your shoulders will suddenly relax, the stress of downtown LA traffic quickly melting away. Your steps will slow, as you take in the remarkable building before you. And then, just as your admiring the slick wood paneling and the open glass windows, you’ll abruptly feel it. The intoxicating anticipation of discovering the unknown.
If you’ve been to The Broad museum next door, it’s a sensation you’ll surely recognize. Because just like the museum, Otium aims to surprise. From the layout of the restaurant to the imaginative menu, Chef Timothy Hollingsworth follows his own rules, and in doing so, creates an experience that is refreshingly new.
But before the food appears and your focus is consumed, try to take note of your surroundings. Notice the maze of geometrical light bulbs that line the ceiling. Count the never ending shelves of bottles behind the bar. Observe the cooks working methodically in the open kitchen, which functions as the restaurants captivating centerpiece.
And before you know it, you’re food will begin to arrive. If you’re an OTM member, one of those dishes will be the Octopus Poutine; a dish that emulates the experimental yet rustic vibe of Otium’s ever-changing menu. While Poutine is a Quebecois dish traditionally made with french fries, fresh cheese curds, and a generous pour of gravy, Chef Timothy has reinvented it in his own fashion. There’s crispy smashed potatoes instead of fries, grilled octopus instead of cheese, and a smattering of tzatziki sauce in leu of gravy. It’s modern and exciting, just like the collection of art pieces down the street.
Of course, after a wonderful dish like that, we had a lot of questions to ask Chef Timothy. And luckily, he was happy to oblige.
What’s the story behind Otium?
Otium is a contemporary American restaurant that really focuses on the idea that America, and especially L.A., is a huge melting pot built on many different cultures. The menu is influenced and guided by a range of different cuisines, such as Japanese, American, Mediterranean, and French.
Where does the name come from?
Otium is a latin word for something that you do in your leisure, such as eating, drinking, or studying. Because of all the arts in this neighborhood and because of my partner Mr. Broad, who’s vision for this area is to have people walking around, hanging out on a blanket in the grass, and utilizing the space in front of the restaurant, I thought the meaning of the word Otium was very fitting.
Why the Poutine as your Off the Menu item?
The idea behind the poutine was to celebrate a couple of the items that are well-known at Otium. People come in specifically for our potatoes and our octopus. We’ve done octopus here many different ways since we’ve started, so we decided to try combining them to make one dish.
How is the OTM poutine different from a classic poutine?
Instead of French fries, we use our potatoes, which are baked, smashed, and then fried. Once they come out, we then toss them with olive oil, lemon juice, Aleppo pepper, shallots, and parsley. Instead of gravy, we use tzatziki sauce, which is a little more fresh and modern.
Which drink pairs best with the poutine?
We just switched up our cocktail menu for brunch, so we have a lot of really cool options. We’re doing saffron lemonade pitchers now, which I think would go really well with it.
What else would you recommend that an OTM member orders at Otium?
For lunch, people really like our raw bar items, like the hamachi and the ceviche. If they want to stick to the Mediterranean style, they can order falafel or the Khachapouri.
What’s your cooking background?
I started out as a dishwasher in a restaurant on my 18th birthday and I worked my way up to sous-chef in that restaurant. Then I went to culinary school in New York, but just to check it out for a week, and decided it wasn’t for me. I came back home and decided I wanted to work for the best, so I went to work for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. I ended up working there for 13 years. I started at the very bottom, and when I left, I was the Head Chef.
What’s your favorite style of cooking?
Lately, I’ve been leaning towards Mediterranean cuisine, but I love everything. I love going places and exploring. For our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Mexico and ate our way through the country. I like picking a style of food and really trying to understand it and get influenced by it. Then I come home and reflect on my experience by dissecting the food in my head, which allows me to create new dishes.
What inspires you in the kitchen? What is your process when creating new dishes?
It comes from everywhere. Sometimes it’s based on colors, sometimes it’s based on shock value. For example, our foie gras funnel cake. I did foie gras so many different ways at The French Laundry, so I had to think of something new and different. The funnel cake is a brioche, with strawberry jam and balsamic. These are all very classic ingredients with foie gras, but I combined it in my own unique way.