Chef focused on relaxed French cooking and local produce at Bell’s in Los Alamos CA.

By Khushbu Shah
May 12, 2020
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Aubrie Pick

On a quiet stretch of road 140 miles north of Los Angeles, in Los Alamos—a place that walks the line between a small town and a ghost town—sits one of the most joyous and warm bistros in the country. But don’t call Bell’s a French restaurant. Chef and co-owner Daisy Ryan (who runs the spot with her husband, Greg) is adamant that the food she serves is “Franch.” Ask her what that means and she’ll tell you that it’s French-inspired food, but more relaxed. It’s cooking with fewer rules, swapping rigidity for fluidity and forgiveness. “We always try to not take ourselves too seriously,” she says. The name also pays homage to the number of ranches in the area. French plus ranch. Franch.

Franch means a savory crêpe cake layered with swoops of crème fraîche and topped with pearls of caviar and glistening mounds of uni from the waters just off of Santa Barbara. Franch means moules frites swimming in a broth kissed with saffron and garlic (but not too much). Franch means a flavor-packed steak tartare mixed with capers and crowned with a rich yellow egg yolk; a menu of sides that includes a generous serving of roasted mushrooms and bags of Utz potato chips; and deeply discounted wine nights. Franch means letting her mom experiment with the dessert table and bake whatever satisfies her whimsy, whether it’s a gâteau basque or a rich chocolate torte.

Bell’s is a return to cooking for Ryan. She grew up 20 minutes south of Los Alamos, enrolled in culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America, and upon graduation she was hired at Per Se—but in a front-of-house position. “I wanted to cook, but you can’t really say no to Per Se.” She spent the next several years working at prestigious restaurants in NYC and Austin, like Brooklyn Fare and McGuire Moorman Hospitality, where she would often get scolded for spending too much time in the kitchen, picking up tips and tricks by observing her back-of-house colleagues.

So when Ryan and her husband decided to open Bell’s, in a building they own with their families, it only made sense for her to jump back on the line, cooking food her way: simple but with incredible technical skill.

Who needs fussy when you can have Franch?

Aubrie Pick