The name Le Sanctuaire suggests a place that soothes the soul. But at this extraordinary kitchen boutique in Santa Monica, a visitor is more likely to get fired-up. No other shop in America offers such a remarkable mix of ingredients, cookbooks, equipment and high design or is such a magnet for innovative chefs. Says Ron Siegel, the chef at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, "If you come to Le Sanctuaire and you're not inspired, you need CPR."
The owner of this store is Jing Tio, a slim, bespectacled 33-year-old. A native of Surabaya, he always tells people that he is from Indonesia so he doesn't have to answer the inevitable follow-up question about where Surabaya is. He presides over a sleek, spare space that looks like it should sell couture rather than kitchenware. On one table is a 1949 edition of the culinary bible The Physiology of Taste. On another is an immersion circulator, a motorized, whisklike device that experimental chefs use for sous-vide cooking. A case displays Tio's favorite Japanese Nenox chef's knives—perfectly weighted, with gorgeous Corian handles. This is a store with a sensibility, where shelves have been curated rather than stocked.
Standing in front of a huge blackboard on which he has written the names of the 150 or so spices and seasonings he carries (from agar-agar to za'atar), Tio talks about his food-and-design fixation. He came to Los Angeles in 1994 to go to college and eventually took an accounting job, but he found himself spending all his free time in the kitchen. "I would buy a mixer for $250 and after three months the blade would get rusty," he says. Against the wishes of his investment-banker father, Tio opened Le Sanctuaire in 2003, filling it with spices from his mother's family's export business. His story is not exactly a hardscrabble one; to raise money for the new boutique he had to sell his six cars, including a Mercedes and a BMW. He now drives a 15-year-old Honda Accord.