December 11, 2012


August 23, 2012


July 11, 2012


November 6, 2011


Food Interview #9: Putting the Stoves on the Road

By now, pretty much everyone’s heard of the Kogi truck and its revolutionary spark to the food truck craze. But how many people know the back story? Where did Kogi get its truck? Where did all the trucks get their trucks? As you may have noticed, food trucks aren’t designed the same way regular trucks are. Food trucks have a side board opening. They have refrigerators, grills, and an awning. They also have something very important, Food! So where do you get one? Call on Roadstoves to set you straight.

I phoned up Josh Hiller, co-owner of Roadstoves, to get the truth behind the food truck craze and to find out if the bubble really is about to burst. He has put trucks such as Kogi, Nom Nom, the Grilled Cheese Truck, and South Philly on the road to success.

Josh has seen his fair share of food truck ideas and he says most of them are awful but there is the occasional one that sparks an interest, which he is more than happy to help put through the process of trucking it. “We look for young, hard-working, entrepreneurs that can bring something new and fun to the market place. Not everyone has that same creativity and business sense. Some people are in it to make a quick buck, but that’s not our MO.”

Josh got into the food truck business almost by accident. He was a lawyer who wanted to help a close friend start his own food truck. Now he runs a company that not only sells and rents out the trucks, Roadstoves offers services ranging from permit acquisition, maintenance, and storage, to truck design, marketing tactics, and business networking. The costs of these trucks varies based on the different fees involved and the individual desires of the entrepreneur but Josh says it’s about $3000 a month to rent one out. Josh and his team have set up the ultimate food truck success machine and all they ask for in return is a great idea.

Speaking in an assertive, don’t-waste-my-time, no bull manner, Josh explained that in order to be in the food truck game, you must have passion. Passion that shines through in your day to day commitment and your respect of the food truck culture, not just a passion for food.

“It takes hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. You can’t just get a truck and get people to run it for you. It takes that work ethic. And it takes that creativity and a good cook. I saw Sizzler launch a food truck and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ It has to be something you can’t get anywhere else.”

As far as being part of this viral epidemic that threatens to implode from the pressure of a rapidly growing competitive market, Josh notes that “helping young entrepreneurs help build their business” is one of the best parts of being in this scene. He can see the power of a good idea and knows that the customer ultimately chooses who stays and who goes. “Customers figure it out pretty quickly. If they come back, they come back, if they don’t, they don’t. It sorts itself out.”

Personally, Josh doesn’t eat at the trucks that much anymore. “I’m a fan of elements of [the scene]. I ate at trucks a lot more at the beginning and I think the Kogi truck is still one of the best ones out there.”

Like it or not, these food trucks are on a roll and Roadstoves is the first stop on their road to serving the dispersed citizens of LA unique gourmet food from the comfort of their own neighborhood. Fortunately for us, Josh is at the wheel in deciding whose food is worth waiting for in those never-ending First Friday’s lines.

Thinking of starting your own food truck? Visit Roadstoves at http://roadstoves.com/

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October 19, 2011


October 17, 2011


Food Interview #7: A Garden Paradise

What’s it like to raise your own chickens and plant your own vegetables?  “Oh, it’s incredible. Best feeling in the world,” says Julie Burleigh, owner of My Home Harvest and manager of the Raymond Neighborhood Community Garden.

Julie came to California from a Louisiana country life background and missed the feeling of living off the land the way her family used to. As an artist, she was comfortable with starting new projects and decided to give gardening a shot by starting a small vegetable patch in her front yard. An expansion of a generous chicken coop quickly followed. “My son and I have trained them to come when you call them,” Julie says of the plump and happy chickens running towards the end of the coop at the sound of a bell and a sprinkling of feed.

The more time she spent in the garden, the more the empty lot across the street started to look like a lot more than just overgrown weeds. It looked like potential. Julie phoned up the owner and asked permission to start a garden on the unused land. Pretty soon, there were family plots, wait lists, heaps of vegetables, and fat, fluffy rabbits acting as organic fertilizer pooping machines.

“There are 32 families that participate in the garden and a lot of them have two plots each. There’s a $3 a month membership fee,” Julie explains as we tour the garden. There are plots with everything from artichokes to strawberries to a rule breaking plum tree. “You’re not supposed to plant trees in these plots because it creates shade for the other plots. These people must’ve done it by accident or a seed fell in their plot.”

Local grants have helped make the garden more of a community with the addition of an outdoor seating section that acts as a community meeting area. “This is where we discuss how the garden’s doing and share ideas about where it’s going. Every member helps out. We have different tasks that need to be done and this is where we figure out who does what.” Gardening became more than just something to do, it was Julie’s contribution to the neighborhood.

Seeing how much of a positive effect the garden had on the families with plots as well as to the community, Julie was inspired to learn more about gardening. She took a Master Gardener Course from the UCLA agriculture department through their Cooperative Extension program. The class was meant to let her explore her love for gardening but she ended up using her newfound knowledge to create her current business, My Home Harvest.

My Home Harvest specializes in designing and installing custom home gardens as productive habitats. Julie takes it a step further by offering maintenance support for her clients. “All of my clients are maintenance clients right now. My assistant and I switch off every week to take care of the gardens.” Starting a business in a recession allowed her to be more affordable than her competition. Being relatively new, she can take on clients with smaller budgets. She also offers consultation services to those who want to install and maintain their gardens on their own but still want her designs.

For anyone wanting fresh, pesticide and hormone free vegetables of their own, Julie says, “Dive in.” There are multiple online references that show you how to plant and take care of gardens for those of us unfortunate to be living in apartments. “All you need is a sunny spot.”

Guess I’m out of excuses, I’m planting my matchstick garden soon. Watch this space for updates. After all, the dish is only as good as the quality of your ingredients.

Visit Julie at My Home Harvest: http://www.myhomeharvest.com/My_Home_Harves_1./Home.html

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October 13, 2011


Food Interview #6: Serving to act

The waitress/actress idea is as symbolic of Los Angeles as fake boobs, blond hair, and a valley girl accent. Olivia Lim is none of those things. She’s an NYU Tisch School of Acting graduate, former small business owner, and member of an improv troupe. She just happens to serve tables at Gyu Kaku nightly. It wasn’t a chosen profession and she has done everything else before seeing food service for its opportunity to help her pursue her creative work. Coming from a food industry background myself, our conversation brought back my first professional experience with food. Here are Olivia’s thoughts on working as a server at Gyu Kaku.

How long have you been a server and how did you get into this profession?

I think for the past 3 years. I was a homeschool teacher before and I was inside the student’s home from 9-2 and I had to miss quite a few auditions. As a server, you work nights and your day is open. It has given me the flexibility of attending auditions during the day. That’s helped a lot, I’ve been able to go on auditions and shoots.

What are the best and worst parts of working with food?

I like working with certain foods but I’m tired of all the foods we have. When we take a break, I would rather go to Starbucks and pay ten bucks and get a sandwich than to eat the food there. Just because I’m surrounded by it all the time, so it’s turned me off to the food that’s at my restaurant.

What’s it like to work with the cooks?

They don’t speak much English, they’re from Oaxaca, MX and it’s fun interacting with them. Some of them. A lot of kitchen people are perverts. If you’ve read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, it’s seriously like a pirate’s ship. We’re all pirates and we’re trying to speak, like a certain language. People within a restaurant have a certain vocabulary. It’s so stressful that you have to do whatever you can to make it fun. Little moments of fun can make a huge difference. It makes a shitty evening so much more bearable knowing that you can joke around with somebody and you have that camaraderie.

I remembered from my time as a server, I looked forward to certain nights because certain people were working.

Yeah, and every night without fail you will encounter an idiot customer, or an entitled customer. Entitled idiots are the worst. And it’s hard not to take things personally when you’re getting yelled at. To have people that have your back makes a difference. So yeah, we’re all pirates.

What are some things as a waitress that you would never reveal to the public?

No one spits in your food. It’s so easy to get caught so I wouldn’t worry about that. What I wouldn’t share is being a server makes you racist. It sounds horrible but it’s based on experience. You can tell if they’re going to tip you or not, just by seeing how they look. There are certain groups who don’t tip at all. Females usually don’t tip as well as guys too. But stereotypes came from certain traits. I’ve seen grown men in suits throwing freaking tantrums because a table’s not ready. They just walk in expecting a table without a reservation. It makes you lose faith in humanity.

So there are certain “suits” who treat you like a hired hand? They think that you’re below them because of your profession?

Yeah, and when they call you “honey,” it makes me want to punch them in the face. Or when guys come in on dates and when their date is in the bathroom, they’re all “honey” this, “honey” that. It’s like, don’t you dare hit on me, that’s just disgusting.

Yeah, I hated that too. There’s a saying that how you treat those who work for you or beneath you is a map of your character. Working in the food industry is ultimately so humbling and something you take with you no matter where your career takes you. Remembering where you came from only creates more success in the future. It makes you tougher.

Exactly, and not only does it make you tough, you’re forced to multitask. Especially when you have 4 or 5 tables sections and you get triple sat, it’s how do you get to everybody in time. How do you greet them, take their drink orders, get their food orders in a timely manner. You can’t waste any time. It forces you to stay focused and multitask like a – Sometimes, I feel like I’m people’s mother. Some people are so needy to the extent that I need to do everything but wipe their ass. You have to make sure everything’s ok.

Are there any positives?

Haha, absolutely. The friendships you make, you know. A lot of people who work in restaurants are pursuing their dreams during the day and doing this at night so you’re surrounded by likeminded people. Being part of a pirate’s crew, the relationships make it worth it. Being able to get a burger after an eight hour shift and realizing “wow, I didn’t eat all day.”  The relationships are all worth it.

Yeah, that’s one of the things I miss most. My first job as a seventeen year old was at a country club and everyone working there at the time became such close friends.  It was a great group of people and everyone got along. And lots of us are still friends to this day.

"Yeah, we’re all sharing a precious moment in time"

Do you plan to stay in this field for a while?

Currently, I’m thinking about moving to Korea for a year. But I feel like, you can only work in a restaurant for so long before it mentally wears you down. I’m tired of living like a vampire. Sometimes I go to sleep at 5 or 6 in the morning and wake up in the afternoon and feel like I wasted half the day. The hours are really tough. So I’m going to get in touch with my roots, my culture [in Korea]. I have a lot of family members on my dad’s side who I don’t even know, who are like strangers to me. And I also feel this is what it means to be an artist, you have life experiences. You do things and I think it’s part of my ultimate journey.

That’s awesome. As far as serving, how has this economy affected your lifestyle? Are you picking up more shifts?

Our managers are told to increase their sales so they’re harder on us. So it feels like you have to work twice as hard to make the same amount of money you were making before. We’ve increased the hours so last call is later than usual. It sucks to work a Monday night shift and stay there as if it were a weekend. There are nights where I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I’m living off of tips. I have to make more of a conscious effort to get up early, to be more productive too. Because it’s so easy to wake up before your shift starts and repeat the pattern all over again. It’s easy to get lazy with the rest of your life because of the hard work you do every night.

Serving and restaurant work aside, acting is Olivia’s true passion. You can find her website here: www.olivialim.com

Next time you’re out on the town, remember to tip your server or, as Olivia says, “There’s a special place in hell for you if you tip under 20%.” Especially if you’re a fellow server.

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October 11, 2011


Food Interview #5: Jeff Potter and the Science of Cooking

“I was lucky to have parents who loved to cook, it’s what we did as a family. When I got to college I was surprised to discover so many of my classmates didn’t know how. That’s because their parents never took the time to cook with them,” he explains of his beginnings in food. Jeff Potter is not a chef, he’s an IT consultant who happened to write a cookbook called Cooking for Geeks, and a board member of the Awesome Food Foundation. It was those college friends that turned out to be the igniting point to Jeff’s involvement with teaching cooking techniques to others.

Dinner after dinner, he would explain the basics of how and why to do certain things to certain ingredients and how they effected the final dish, all very logically and scientifically. Pretty soon, food was always on Jeff’s mind. At an IT conference where techies were encouraged to speak of their creative and interesting hobbies, Jeff found himself giving an inspirational talk about food and the amazing things he had seen and explained during those college dinners with his friends. A thought dawned on him then, “maybe I should write about this stuff. How hard could it possibly be?”

9 months, 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, and piles upon piles of dishes later, Jeff had his first copy of Cooking for Geeks. “Writing the book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he admits. All the work, however, was well worth the effort. Enduring the solitary author’s lifestyle and countless recipe testings became manageable obstacles on a road to higher fulfillment. “The recipes aren’t trying to be something they’re not. They illustrate basic scientific principles that show you how [and why] to do it and then you can go and improvise with it. It’s really important to get people to think with science.”

He never planned for any attention to come of this project. It was meant to be something to help him cope with the end of a long-term relationship and a start on his adventure in food. “I didn’t plan for these things to happen. I didn’t do it for public gratification. I just needed something different and it was the right thing at the right time.”

Finishing the book became more rewarding than he ever thought possible. Not only did it give him something that he could take great pride in, others started noticing as well. “There’s a huge sense of relief and accomplishment when crossing the finish line. The biggest reaction for me was my parents and how very proud they were of me.”

When recounting an experience of a boy and his father’s reaction at an event at a children’s hospital in Australia, Jeff’s voice softens and his tone becomes more reflective. “This quiet man approached me and said, ‘thank you so much, you made my little boy’s day.’ I almost started crying because I had brightened someone’s day. It’s a very emotional memory for me,” Jeff explains. Far from anything he expected and above all, he was able to experience the kindness of people and found out “how nice the world really is.”

Today, Jeff is expanding on that kindness through his work with the Awesome Food Foundation. Being one of the board members, who each give $100 a month to a worthy food project for a total of $1000 to the grantee, Jeff knows how much it means to give people opportunities to do great things. Their first recipient was in the business of mobile composting. The grant allowed her to get 50 compost bins to help transport collected food scraps to local gardens needing compost material. “It was such a joy to reward her,” says Jeff. Not only does he enjoy hearing others’ creative ideas, but he also gets joy from helping them on their journey. For when you start out doing something for yourself and end up reaching others as a result, there is no greater happiness.

Find the Awesome Food Foundation here: http://www.awesomefood.net/

Find Cooking for Geeks here: http://www.cookingforgeeks.com/

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September 29, 2011


Food Interview Series #2: The Hip Hop Chocolatier

Some people may know Marcus Grey from his work in television production and the Hollywood industry. Others know him as a student of religion, taking time to understand various traditions and attitudes that have shaped our history for centuries. And a small growing few have come to know him as the hip hop chocolatier.

Marcus came into the chocolate making industry by chance, or as he might say, “it was serendipitous.” He had been studying religion in school and was taken with the idea that you could infuse anything with meaning to create a personal meaning.  Just as the hip hop world uses music, fashion, and design to convey a feeling or a message, so too can food.

When asked how the idea of combining his religious studies with hip hop in the form of a chocolate came about, Marcus had this to say: “I remember reading that the sun gives birth to everything on earth. In indigenous cultures, they recognized that the sun was what was feeding their crops, that’s why they respected the land so much. Certain crops weren’t just staples of their cultures, they were also revered, like corn and even chocolate. They recognized it as a gift from the earth and when they took it into their bodies, there would be this appreciation. That’s where praying before meals comes from, the appreciation for food.

“For me, after September 11th, I wanted to take a symbol of terrorism, which became the box cutter, and kinda neutralize it. A cultural way of rebranding the box cutter and making it edible so it wouldn’t be so terrifying. So I made a chocolate box cutter.”

The idea took off from there. After showing his creation to a couple friends, the chocolate box cutter got featured in a play where the actor was seen eating the box cutter while portraying one of the terrorists from a plane that hit the World Trade Center.

Marcus was inspired and elated that his message was being heard. He started thinking of other symbols he could infuse with meaning. Hip hop came as a natural avenue because of the way it had impacted his life. He had grown up break dancing and listening to hip hop. His studies of religion led him to see that culture differently. He saw graffiti as ancient calligraphy and political protests, the music as an expression of a cultural time from the perspective of the struggling and underprivileged, and had even seen instances where b-boys had had religious experiences that determined their continuation within that realm. “Hip hop to me is contemporary art,” says Marcus. He sees chocolate as his contribution to that movement.

He is currently en route to Europe where he will spend 49 days forming a base from which he can expand as the Original Hip Hop Chocolatier. A book is also in the works entitled, “The Psychics of Hip Hop” which will compare the similarities and differences of the hip hop world with the various religions and mythologies of the world.

Favorite quote: “Culture is more than what you wear, it also wears you.”

Favorite place to eat in LA:  Rahel Ethiopian on Fairfax

Recipe: Life: 1 part experimentation, 2 parts critical thinking, 3 parts learning to trust yourself, and 4 parts sincerity

Chocolates range from $5-$25 apiece and are delicious!

Order yours at www.hiphopchocolate.com!

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September 22, 2011


May 10, 2010


The Health Benefits of Teas
Although most people are aware of tea’s health benefits, they are not aware of which teas are the most beneficial. So, from a health perspective, are all teas created equal?
Green Teas (Japanese, Chinese, Gunpowder, etc…)Green teas are the freshest and  least processed because they are not at all fermented. Of all “real” teas, green tea has the lightest and most subtle taste.Black Teas (Darjeeling, Earl Grey, China Black, Jasmine, etc…) Black tea is simply green tea that has been fermented for around 6 hours. Fermentation turns the green leaves black and alters the polyphenol content, though it is still very high in antioxidants. Black teas have the strongest taste.Oolong Teas These teas are made from green teas that are briefly fermented. Therefore, they are a compromise between black and green tea in both taste and color.

The Health Benefits of Teas

Although most people are aware of tea’s health benefits, they are not aware of which teas are the most beneficial. So, from a health perspective, are all teas created equal?

Green Teas (Japanese, Chinese, Gunpowder, etc…)
Green teas are the freshest and least processed because they are not at all fermented. Of all “real” teas, green tea has the lightest and most subtle taste.

Black Teas (Darjeeling, Earl Grey, China Black, Jasmine, etc…)
Black tea is simply green tea that has been fermented for around 6 hours. Fermentation turns the green leaves black and alters the polyphenol content, though it is still very high in antioxidants. Black teas have the strongest taste.

Oolong Teas
These teas are made from green teas that are briefly fermented. Therefore, they are a compromise between black and green tea in both taste and color.

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April 7, 2010


Unlike a picture of a flower or friend, a picture of a meal recalls something smelled, touched, tasted and ultimately ingested.
“You have more of a direct connection with your food, so it forms a more essential memory of an occasion,” he said.

This New York Times article investigates the food blogging and documenting phenomena. 

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