I just returned from what is perhaps my favorite American loop: LA -> Napa -> Berkeley/SF/Marin -> DC. The primary excuses were podcast recording in Santa Monica (featuring: Ted Danson!), video shooting in St. Helena (more on that another time), and, in Maryland, helping judge a competition of Marriott’s line cooks which began with 1,200 contestants and wound up with one winner. Needless to say, I also visited Monterey Market in Berkeley.
It was a packed and stimulating twelve days, which revealed an unplanned thread, one I didn’t see until I was reflecting (on a typically horrible United cross-country flight) en route to Washington. That theme made me feel lucky, and even optimistic.
It started with a Saturday breakfast in LA with Moby (yeh, this Moby), of whom I’ve been a fan since 1999, and whom I met just a few years ago. Moby is a vegan who says things like, “I wish more of my vegan friends understood that people who are eating majority plant-based diets are on their side.”
A couple of years ago, Moby opened Little Pine, a small, nicely designed restaurant (that gives 100% of its profits to animal rights organizations!) on Rowena Ave. in Silver Lake. It’s vegan, but not like “Oh, the poor vegans never get to eat things that are like meat, so we’re going to make as many meat-like things as we can” (I don’t want to randomly start insulting restaurants, but I have a couple in mind); it’s more like, “We’re going to make some awesome food, it’s gonna be vegan, you’ll probably like it.” In my experience, it’s been terrific—fine ingredients, carefully prepared—and on this morning, I ate top-notch granola, with berries and “coco whip”: thick coconut cream made from fresh coconuts, beaten with sugar and vanilla.
Not that this matters, but Sunday my friend Daniel and I went to MOCA and saw a fun Manny Farber exhibit that ultimately led to a jaw-dropping roomful of Rothkos, probably the single best Rothko display in the world.
Monday I Uber-ed (Lyft-ed, actually) to Culver City, where I ate lunch with Nic Jammet, one of the founders of Sweetgreen. The food was from their “lab,” open to the public and essentially a test kitchen where the best menu candidates are put out there, and the most successful ones get tested in a few stores, and so on. You know about Sweetgreen, but let’s just say (and this is me saying it, not them) that their mission is to source local ingredients from the best farms they can, and make delicious meals—mostly salads.
Then south to Compton, where I met Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader who now drives a beat-up pickup and has done good work for as long as I’ve known him, five years or so.
Sam’s passion is Everytable, a fast-food concept with inexpensive (often five bucks) boxed, prepared meals that are made using healthy ingredients. They’re sold refrigerated and can be reheated either in the store or at home; think Pret a Manger with good “restaurant” food, like vegetables and quinoa, Moroccan-style salmon, jerk chicken, that kind of thing. The already successful mission here is to make fast food healthy and affordable, better and less expensive than McDonald’s. And Sam’s committed to both putting stores where they’re needed, as in Compton, and where they’ll get press, visibility, and higher profit, like Santa Monica, where the average meal is two bucks more than it is in Compton.
We produce reported pieces, profiles, interviews, and rants about what’s broken in the food world (there’s a lot) and how to change things for the better. People sometimes tell me to just keep politics out of it. Respectfully: No. Food is political. We can’t and won’t ignore that.