May 24, 2012


The Raw Food Experience

Lately, there has been talk of organic, all natural, cage-free, no MSG added, and locally sourced produce and meat products. There has been talk of eating better and feeling better. There has been talk of high obesity rates and the prominence of fast food in our children’s diets. There has been outrage over the “pink slime” epidemic. There has become more awareness in the kinds of food we are eating and slowly, there is a growing shift in our thinking. And there has also been talk of going raw

Eating raw means eating food that hasn’t actually been cooked. You take fresh ingredients that haven’t been processed or tampered with and by combining them in expert fashion, you get a completely fresh and healthy eating experience. Granted, a lot of the food you’d be eating is cold but at least you would be giving your body the fresh natural high that it craves. The same kind of high you would get from exercising every day. 

The idea behind the growing popularity of raw food dining is that all the nutrients naturally found in fruits and vegetables would not be stripped from the source in the cooking process. That way, you get the ultimate nutrient-filled diet possible, hence giving your body the maximum fuel of raw goodness. 

However, there are skeptics to this movement. People who say that it’s rabbit food, that the people who prepare this food aren’t actually “cooking” anything, therefore aren’t real chefs or even to be considered cooks. Ironically, should one try to prepare an appetizing raw food dish, they’d be surprised to find that making raw “uncooked” ingredients taste good and original is actually a bit of a challenge. 

LA has it’s very own raw food chef, Chef Be*Live. He is a former Grateful Dead groupie/San Francisco nightclub owner/Humboldt County hippie/Seventh Day Adventist rebel who has come into the food world by chance and accident. Turned vegan over the course of a serious relationship with his then girlfriend Whitney, he went raw upon discovery of restaurant, “Raw” in San Francisco. Later, having taken on said restaurant under the new name, “Organic” he would learn about the craft that is raw cooking. 

What Chef Be*Live does, that few chefs I’ve come across understand, is that he seasons everything he makes without fear. After our meet up at the Sun Power cafe in the Valley he invited me to his apartment where he made the most incredible salad with a dressing of young coconut, cayenne pepper, and a mix of other amazing flavors that made the salad jump off its plate and sing. 

Chef Be*Live’s journey through raw and vegan cooking was a natural one filled with discovery rather than harsh rules of abstainment and rejection of certain foods. He ate meat when he wanted to discover a specific flavor or combination, he ate cooked food when he wanted it. There was never harsh parameters to his eating or cooking. 

He says he now eats only raw because it genuinely makes him feel better. And not just raw, but organic raw. Before organic, he was allergic to most raw foods he came across. It’s amazing how much a difference the quality of a product can make in the body, especially for Be*Live. 

Today, he is working on many projects simultaneously. He recently published a raw food cookbook entitled, “Going Going Gone Raw” and is working on several e-books with focus on fitness, sexuality through food, beauty, kids’ cooking, weight loss, and longevity. Needless to say, he’s a busy guy. 

One thing to note about the energy of Be*Live and the passion he has for his food is his affirmation and declaration that he’s “never followed a recipe once!” 

To get more info on Chef Be*Live, visit him here.

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January 6, 2012


Food Interview #12: The Next Food Network Star!

I had the amazing privilege of meeting and interviewing Next Food Network Star, Aarti Sequeira!

Most people who enjoy food have heard of the Food Network, have most likely seen a show or two, and may or may not have caught glimpse of the reality cooking competition called “The Next Food Network Star.” Normally, I try to limit my Food Network intake to four shows (that’s a lot according to my friends) and my Sundays are usually pretty booked with other televised entertainment. However, last year I happened to catch the first episode of the Season 6 and got instantly hooked. Not because Giada was one of the judges nor because of the competition itself. I got hooked because of one bubbly Indian girl named Aarti Sequeira. And I never imagined I would have the honor of sitting down with her in her house to chat about our favorite topic; food!

As you might suspect, Aarti is every bit as charming in person as she is on camera. She and her husband, Brendan both invited me into their home as if I were a long lost friend or maybe just a lost puppy. They had just moved in so the house was still in that disheveled stage but the couches were comfortable, the breeze was warm, and I had Aarti right in front of me. Right away, we dove into her story of journalist come food blogger come Food Network Star.

Aarti grew up in Dubai where up until the age of eleven, she had never witnessed real journalism. At that time, it was amidst the First Gulf War that she saw CNN in action and from then on, the newsroom beckoned. She came to the US to study at Northwestern for journalism, where she was able to land a job with CNN straight out of school. She worked in Chicago and New York and with her dream actualized, she realized she needed a new one.

By then she had married her college sweetheart, Brendan, and had moved to Los Angeles for him to able to pursue his acting ambitions. That is where Aarti found herself in an odd position of having nothing to do. Her passion for journalism had dwindled and no other prospects seemed plausible. “It was really scary for me, I was letting everybody down. There was this whole period of four to five years where I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.”

Looking back on that time now, she says, “it was all for a reason.  Spiritually, I felt God really came in and I learned to appreciate God’s role in my life. And then also, I started writing, which I never thought I could consider myself a serious writer, so I started blogging. My friend was doing it and it looked like a cool thing to do.”

Blogging unleashed a part of her that she didn’t think she had a right to. The act of writing gave her a voice and blogging about her interests gave her a new outlet for creativity. With nothing else to do, she blogged about the one thing that she did do, cooking. “I’d never cooked really seriously. I had picked up The Joy of Cooking, someone had given it to me as a wedding present, and I would go through it, pick a recipe, walk to the store, buy the stuff, walk back, and cook.”

She did this every day. It was then that she discovered that something had awoken within her and people around her began noticing. Her husband gifted her with a certificate for the Professional Cooking Program at the New School of Cooking in LA that Christmas and Aarti fell in love instantly. Going through the program, she began to consider cooking for a living. She got an internship in the Pantry department at Luques and while that was fun, she noticed that something was missing. “I missed making the food and seeing someone eat it and talking to them about it. I knew I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life.”

Regardless of her views of the restaurant life, she knew she wanted food and cooking in her life. Then, one of her friends suggested she do a cooking show. “This is the recurring theme in my life, people say, ‘hey you should this,’ and I’m like, ‘you’re stupid.’ And then I do it, and think, ‘Oh yeah, this works!’”

What resulted was her very own YouTube cooking show in which she featured her friends, had sing-alongs, and, of course, made amazing food. Every show had a theme and every show was natural and pure for its fun, no-agenda-attached attitude.

It was her friends, again, that suggested she audition for The Next Food Network Star. But it was her positive outlook on life and her inventiveness with recipes and ideas that got her the win.

When asked how she comes up with her Indian recipes with a twist, she says it’s a combination of inspiration from cherished recipes of favorite chefs, advice from many of the thousands of Indian recipes her mother sends her daily, and the courage to try something new even if it turns out for the worse. Listening to Aarti makes one believe that anyone can make a recipe, so long as you like it yourself.

As for her experience on The Next Food Network Star, Aarti says, “it was petrifying. I did not want to do it. I was digging into my husband’s arm not to go. But for some reason, the doors kept opening to this. So I had to do it.”

“It was a very difficult process and I felt very exposed,” she admits. During her season, viewers knew that her biggest challenge was that she didn’t think she was good enough to be there or to be considered a real cook. She had the personality and the talent but she was forced to develop a confidence as the world watched. Luckily for her fans, she was able to pull through and land herself the win and her very own show.

Now, she has a cookbook in the works and a few more projects lined up with the Food Network and the Cooking Chanel. “It still doesn’t feel totally real to me,” she says. “It still feels very much like I’m living someone else’s story. I totally leapt up the line without putting in my dues, it feels like sometimes.”

Coming up with all her own recipes, regularly concepting new ideas, continuously updating her blog, and being able to make a living off of it sounds like she’s working pretty hard to me. Regardless of which direction she chooses to take down the line, I hope one thing will never stop. I hope she never stops sharing her perspective and tastes of her wonderful life. I hope she never stops inspiring more people to try Indian food. And I really hope we get to see more of her creativity because this is one special lady. A lady with a taste for veggie burgers and smoothies and a sweet tooth for ice cream.

Good luck Aarti!

Visit Aarti on her blog: Aarti Paarti!

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December 28, 2011


Food Interview #11: Olives in Italy

Andy Goldfarb

Olive oil grove in Italy.

Andy is a retired executive living in the Sherman Oaks region of Los Angeles. He does not work in food. However, he is an avid fan of food, with only the best tasting ingredients making it to his plate. His love of prime food produce and his passion for world travel has taken him and his wife, Denise, to Italy, where they have come to own their very own house and olive grove. I sat down with him to get some details about an adventure many only dream about.

How did you come to own an olive farm?

My wife Denise and I love Los Angeles. You can get anything you want here. We absolutely love it. From the farmer’s markets to having your own trees in the backyard, it’s paradise. But we like to travel at least once a year. If you’ve seen Under the Tuscan Sun, that’s what inspired us. So we went to look at properties in southeast Tuscany and came upon the one we have now. It came with the olive trees.

So did you know anything about olive farming before buying it?

No, we had to learn everything. When we first bought it, there were 500 trees. Now there are approximately 1200 trees that are anywhere from 9 to 400 years old.

Did you decide to sell the oil once you learned more about the process?

We never had any intention of making olive oil for anyone else but ourselves.

Do you personally work the farm or do you have help?

We wanted to do something while in Italy so when we bought this property we learned to work the land from the neighbors and other locals. We also have employees that come and tend to the farm when we are here in the States. The olives have to be harvested for the oil pressing in November so it has to be done quickly. The faster they work, the more oil they get as payment. It’s their motivation to do the best job possible. And, we make really outstanding olive oil. We’ll give away a few bottles to friends and the rest is for family. My brother has a winery, Anomaly Vineyards in St. Helena in Napa Valley. He sells a limited amount of olive oil from our farm. Our oil is labeled under the Anomaly name like his wine.

Take me through the process of making olive oil.

There are three varieties of olives that come from a mix of trees that we have. This makes a blend of flavors. These olives are hand-picked off of the trees. There’s a spread net at the bottom to catch them. You have to press them right after you pick them, but certainly never more than 3 days later. It takes over two weeks to pick all of the trees. Then, they’re pressed. You can’t eat these olives so they’re only good for the oil.

What kind of presses do you use?

There are two kinds of presses. First there’s an old stone mill press and you put everything into it and run it multiple times. The problem with it is the cleaning process. Everything is run through it so all the residue that ends up coming away is hard to clean between presses. It’s fun for that rustic feeling but too hard to clean. This lends itself usually to potentially unhealthy situations because your neighbor’s olives may have been sitting around for weeks and have possibly gone rancid. If your olives are next in line, they could become tainted right from the start.

The other press is more modern and it makes all kinds of oil. It’s located in a really big modern industrial building not far from our house. So we truck the olives over and a conveyor belt takes everything, stems and pits included. Everything is washed and then pressed. The grinders separate the liquid from the sludge. That liquid is then separated into oil and water by a huge centrifuge and the oil is this dark green that has a peppery taste to it. That is the preferred taste for Tuscan and Umbrian olive oil.

We share the press with other farms in the area but our oil is one of the best, if not the best. We make about 1500 litres of oil but we only get to keep about 750 litres of it. About half of all the oil made goes to the workers who are paid in oil for their time and work. And this year, we lost more than half of the crop to hail so it was even less so we are only producing about 500 liters that we split with the workers.

What’s the difference between normal olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

Nothing except the quality of the olive and the oil. What’s on the market isn’t labeled correctly. I see bottles labeled virgin, extra virgin and it’s all the same. What you need to look for is first or cold pressed. The best oil must be cold pressed below 30 degrees Celsius and it’s the first press. Everything after that is the mush that’s taken away that is reprocessed at temperature again to make a lesser quality oil.

Does Italy have the best olive oil?

Yes, Italy has the prime conditions for making the best oil but everything depends on the land. If it’s at an angle, if it gets the right amount of sun, if the soil is right. It all depends on region as well. Tuscany has a big olive oil that goes well with meat dishes while Sicily has a lighter one, that accommodates it’s fish-based cuisine. Also, a lot of oil sold in Italy is actually from abroad. A lot of it is Spanish, Greek, and Turkish. And a lot of it is mixed with other seed oils. So the bottle might say Italian but it was actually made in another country and bottled in Italy. It is legal for an Italian olive oil seller to say that foreign oil is Italian if they import the olives legally. This is crazy, but, unfortunately, true.

What do you think about the plight of small farms during these economic times?

Hopefully, there isn’t one. There’s been a huge resurgence of small farms and they mostly do well, certainly better than 10 years ago. People who want to buy fresh produce will pay the money to buy it. It’s not that different than going to Whole Foods, the prices are similar. There’s a growing market place now that didn’t exist before and there are farmer’s markets everywhere. Small farms are on the rise.

What’s the best part of having a home away from home in Tuscany?

It’s beautiful there. We love going there. Our house and the setting. Watching the sun set with a bottle of wine. Seeing the sun lighting the land and having this incredible oil. It makes a great gift for friends too. There’s nothing better than a slice of fresh bread with oil, you don’t need anything else. And we love having family visit us there.

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November 21, 2011


Food Interview #10: Food For Life, A Talk With a Dietitian

In America today, two in three adults are obese or overweight and it is said that obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of death in the US with over 400,000 deaths annually. It’s no surprise then that those who are overweight are developing unhealthy eating habits either to lose weight rapidly or to console their damaged emotional state by eating even more, while those at a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) are taking cues from weight-loss advertising and are developing unhealthy eating habits through negative body image, in large part due to the media targeted at the growing overweight population. In fact, Americans spend $33 billion a year on weight-loss products and services.

Thankfully, there are people like Hilary Tanenbaum who can teach them about proper eating techniques so that they too may experience the joys of food without compromising their health. Hilary, MS, RD is a registered LA dietitian who focuses on both extremes.

Hilary is in a unique position as she splits her time between a residential eating disorder center, helping patients maintain a better lifelong food mindset and body weight and a county hospital in the San Fernando Valley, where she regularly aids those fighting food-related illness, like diabetes and other obesity-related medical complications, on a daily basis. These rather opposite ends of the spectrum have given Hilary her own unique outlook on food and view of how it affects people who take it to both extremes.

“I try to get people to have a better relationship with food. So you eat when you’re hungry and you stop when you’re full,” she says. “The extremes of undereating and overeating may both be related to a disconnection with listening to your internal cues of hunger and satiety”

Hilary explains that food is more than what you put in your body for nourishment. It is the connection you hold to your intuition and the ability of listening to yourself and honoring your instincts. “With all this diet information available, there’s so much manipulation and overthinking that goes into what people eat, and that could develop into a problem.”

Somewhere along the way, whether it’s loving the taste of food too much, or wanting a smaller waist size, some people have forgotten their inner voices to the point of self-destruction.

“At the hospital I don’t get to spend too much time with the patients but when I speak with them, I often see that it’s not just lack of education or lack of resources that makes people make poor food choices; people are also fundamentally out of tune with what the body is telling us to do.”

Restaurants have had their own hand in this crisis. With portions gradually increasing and people’s expectations going right along with it, it’s hard to turn down a bigger plate of food at an equal or lesser price point. “Now, they’ve gotten accustomed to getting that much food so if they get any less they think they’re not getting a good deal.”

It seems getting people back in touch with themselves is the biggest challenge. Eating according to hunger and satiety are the key issues. While I see it as a food specific disease, Hilary sees it as “calories in, calories out.”

Citing a diet experiment performed by a Mark Haub, a professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University where he ate only convenience store foods for 10 weeks, lost weight, and had improved health indicators, she says “it’s not the type of food you’re eating but how much of it you’re eating.”

“Portions size have increased substantially, the kinds of food we’re eating has changed and the availability of food has changed,” says Hilary of the obesity epidemic in the US. “All of these things, I think, have created a perfect storm and now we’re trying to fix it.”

Unfortunately, this has turned food related illness into an actual problem. Hilary notes that the worst consequence of food related illness she sees is death, which many do not realize is happening to them until their bodies are giving out and it’s too late to reverse the process.

The want for more is a natural human condition that everyone has to varying degrees. But when you are physically causing yourself harm because of it, it may be time to re-evaluate your life. When you stop listening to your body’s signals and without the proper understanding of how food affects the body, it only gets harder to get back on a normal track.

“My philosophy is that at the root of it all, our body is amazing and can guide us with what and how much to eat; if we do that, it’s easy to maintain a natural body weight.”

Hilary says that the best part of her job is seeing people start getting that understanding back.

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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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November 5, 2011


Food Interview Series?

You may be wondering what happened to the Food Interview Series and if I lost the bet to my boyfriend. Well, life happened but I’m not going to make excuses.

Yes, I lost the bet. But, I do have a few more interviews to post that I have already conducted.

And, I’m pleased to say that I will finish the original 25 planned. The timeframe may be a bit longer than originally expected but I did do 13 interviews in one month, so I’m pretty happy with that.

I’ll try to write up as many as possible in the coming days so their stories are told. Plus, I have a really exciting celebrity one too!

Coming soon!

(Photo: Evan Kleiman interviews Nancy Silverton)

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October 31, 2011


Food Interview #8: The Ellusive and Creepy Tea Guy

Since it’s Halloween and I’m way behind on posting my interviews, I thought I’d get in the spirit with this little narrative of my encounter with the most awkward person I’ve ever admired, the ellusive, creepy tea guy.

[No picture. You’ll see why]

Imagine walking into an overpriced coffee shop on one of the ritziest streets in Santa Monica, expecting to be swindled into buying a tiny, delicately pampered, artistically rendered cup of cappuccino, only to find yourself mesmerized by a beautifully assorted tea collection with some of the best blends you’ve ever seen. This is exactly what happened when I stumbled upon The Art of Tea at Cafe Luxe.

All I had to do was smell it to know how good it was. I asked one of the coffee shop employees for more information as to who was responsible for this heaven. “This one guy but he travels a lot,” they said nonchalantly. From that point on I knew I had to talk to Steve Schwartz. After all, I am collecting some of the most interesting food people in LA for this interview series and I’m obsessed with tea as it is, so he was definitely a must.

Hunting him down, however, became something of a sport. Send out an enthusiastic email documenting my love of tea and my years of study leading to an extensive report on the industry, hear nothing in reply. Send out a fan-like Facebook message requesting a time to meet to discuss tea, no reply. Call him up on his extension, leaving a breathless message of unabashed tea passion, no reply. Leave word with a representative of his company, still no reply.

By this point, anyone following this lunatic journey would be thinking why I hadn’t given up. I’ll tell you why, it’s seriously good tea.

Resume. Send out another email with my 50+ page tea report along with my resume, hoping to get his attention that way, finally, a response of a brief two sentences telling me he doesn’t know how he can help me but that we could meet. Cue ecstatic jumping and squealing like a little girl on my part. This was my chance. I instantly reply and wait with bated breath.

Clearly, that was not the correct reaction because it generated yet another long bout of silence. This time, I decided to take action. I emailed him again, telling him that I was still interested in a chat with the idea that if he did not reply, I would call him up and demand a meeting anyway. Lucky for him, he did reply.

What would seem to be a dream meeting with my supposed hero of tea turned out to be a confused conference of mixed communication. I came into it with the sole intent of discussing tea from one passionate tea lover to another. He was of the impression that it was a job interview for some undefined position that he would consequently create should he find me suitable to work with. Needless to say, it was quite a bit more than distracting.

Regardless, somewhere between tea talk and the job interview, I learned more about the man behind the tea. He had started out in preventative medicine with the study of botanicals and the “alchemy of herbology.” His focus was herbs of China and India versus those of the West. It was through his studies and subsequent treatments administered to real patients that he was able to discover the various profiles of wellness. This knowledge quickly transferred to tea.

Pretty soon, Steve Schwartz was blending up a tea storm. With blends like Mandarin Silk, 1896, and Apricot Escape, his teas soon garnered the interest of the general public. His blending savvy comes from the multiple trips to China and India he has taken over the past decade, which he continues to take to this day, that allow him to find only the best ingredients.

Business, on the other hand, is a sensitive topic and in this writer’s opinion, something he could do to improve upon. Starting with treating fans with dignity rather than trying to milk them of their every skill in online marketing. Personal opinions aside, this truly is one of America’s best tea selections and I wish his business only the best of luck. If I could only shake the feeling of being pierced with unwavering and probing eyes from my mind every time I hear the name, Art of Tea.

So in the end, I got to meet “The Tea Master,” I got grilled in a new way yet unseen for a job interview, and I got a pretty nice stash of free tea samples. Lessons learned (and I should have known this coming from a Russian household)? You’re only welcome if the tea is poured, otherwise you best stay on your toes.

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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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October 4, 2011


Food Interview #4: Frederic of Le Saigon

“This is my mother and father’s place. They’ve always wanted a business and it finally came together in 1999,” Frederic explains as we sit in café style chairs and petit tables outside Le Saigon, his family’s Vietnamese restaurant tucked into a pass off of Santa Monica Blvd.

“It started as just the three of us but as the business grew, we were able to expand and get more help. It’s a lot of work, especially with the prep.”  Vietnamese food deals with a lot of fresh produce that must be made the same day so it is at top quality. “Those are the little things that people take for granted,” says Frederic.

Being the son of Le Saigon’s owners, Frederic knows every part of the business and does everything from cooking to seating guests to taking orders. It’s truly a family adventure.

“It gave our family something that was ours, you know. And once you get a taste of that, you do whatever it takes.” Frederic knows that when working for yourself, no one else will ever do a better job than you would. Le Saigon is a place this family takes great pride in.

Being one of the first Vietnamese restaurants to open in LA on the west side, it has survived the economic downturn with consistent food and great customer service. Not to mention a refreshingly positive attitude. “It’s a cycle and you have to make it through,” explains Frederic.

His dedication to the business was evident in every mannerism and every smile. He welcomed me with a pot of oolong tea and fluidly took a take-out order as we chatted. Through our conversation I was able to learn how special this place truly is.

It turns out Le Saigon is a time capsule. When asked if this was traditional of a restaurant one might find in Vietnam, Frederic said that “it’s how my parents remember Vietnam from when they left. Vietnam has grown since that time and it’s not the same country anymore. It’s a reflection of that time.” This kind of restaurant does not exist in Vietnam even though it serves Vietnamese food.

Too many factors influenced it then and even more do now. Having grown up in France and traveled extensively, Frederic himself is a fusion of character and experience. In fact, his entire family has French names, taking into account the big influence France had on Vietnam in the past. These are traits that he brings into his cooking. Being in LA also gives him opportunities to bring native California produce into his food. “It’s sort of like fusion, in a sense.”

As a returning customer, I can say that this is truly comfort food if there ever was any. It’s what you crave when you’re sick, it’s what you want when you’re meeting friends, it’s what you want when it’s cold out. Le Saigon has more to offer than just a bowl of steaming hot soup, it gives you a chance to experience a special family evolution.

Visit www.lesaigoncuisine.com for menus and hours.

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October 3, 2011


Food Interview #3: Beard Papa’s LA - Sawtelle

You’ve heard of French cream puffs. You heard of Belgian cream puffs. But have you ever heard of a Japanese cream puff?

Say hello to Beard Papa’s Japanese cream puffs. Not only does the original recipe hail from Japan’s Osaka village outskirt, they claim to have “the world’s BEST cream puff.” After numerous tastings, I can honestly say it is truly one of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

I went to my local Beard Papa’s bakery here in LA to get some insider’s tips. I interviewed some customers as well as an employee. All employees here wear tall chef hats and operate the cream filling machines. They make cream puffs and other pastries such as fondat au chocolat, éclairs, and mont blanc in the winter months.

Beard Papa’s started in Osaka, Japan by Yuji Hirota. Yuji grew up on cream puffs, which in Japan are called “choux cream” and the character of Beard Papa came from his image of his beloved grandfather, who had a fluffy, white beard. Now there are locations all over the world. California alone has 16! With Japanese employees, it feels like you step into a different country getting something you didn’t expect from Japan.

Beard Papa’s employee, Charles, said this about his favorite pastry and working at Beard Papa’s:

Charles: “My favorite pastry is the caramel éclair. On your first visit, though, you must try the original vanilla cream puff. It’s really good.”

Here’s what customers Tina and Emily had to say about Beard Papa’s:

Emily: “They have fluffy pastries and they have really good milk tea. Milk tea is tea with milk and tapioca balls (boba). “

After trying an original vanilla cream puff, Tina had this to say:

“I liked the fact that it was very fluffy and light. I liked that the cream was not overdone, it wasn’t too thick. Because I’ve had cream puffs that really thick and you feel heavy and that you had more cream than the actual [pastry]. I haven’t had a better cream puff and I would love to try another flavor.”

Seems like Beard Papa achieved his goal with pleasing his customers with light, fluffy cream puffs inspired by his beard. If you like pastries, like your food made fresh without preservatives, and appreciate affordability, you’ll love Beard Papa’s.

http://www.muginohointl.com/index.php

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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 27, 2011


Food Interview Series #1: Who is Rose Gresch?

Rose Gresch has lived many lives. She can say she was a hairdresser. She can say she is a cancer survivor. She can say she is a business woman. She can say she is a loving mom and wife. She can say she is a yoga instructor and studio manager. And she can say she absolutely loves food.

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