Sustainable Chef Loghan Call on #LAFoodCulture
Intro: Food Tribe is taking a deeper dive into #LAFoodCulture, by featuring the chefs, restaurateurs, and foodies that make LA's food scene what it is. We want to hear from various perspectives about LA's food culture, and are excited to share those voices with you!
This week, we interviewed vegan chef Loghan Call, who recently left LA and moved to Springfield, Missouri to work as a chef at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. He was previously running Planted Cuisine, a vegan and locally sourced pop-up experience event company. We had an interesting discussion about the food supply chain and the differences of food cultures between Southern California and the Midwest.
Food Tribe (FT): How did you get started as a vegan chef and with Planted Cuisine?
Loghan Call (LC): My introduction to healthy food started at a young age. My mother was a macrobiotic chef, who taught me the benefits of healthy eating and I learned to eat off the land very early on.
I became interested in the urban farm movement and soil health when I was studying global sustainability at UCLA, and it really became clear to me that we are very disconnected from our food. Food really is about connection. It’s an intimate part of our lives three times a day, but we are actually very disconnected from it.
There is a rise in the farm-to-table movement, which is a start, but the guests and chefs are still disconnected from the bigger picture. I wanted to create a different environment with a different approach to eating, tasting, and learning. I wanted to highlight the farmer, the produce, and the process. The end result is food with fuller flavor and more nutrients. It’s a better systems approach to earth and sustainability through the dining experience. Because of the food culture in LA, this idea resonated and took off quickly.
FT: Tell me a little more about the Planted Cuisine experience.
LC: We would get same day harvested produce from local urban farms, and prepare a multi-course menu for the guests. The farmer would be present and we would lead a discussion about the food and the process.
FT: You mentioned that it took off easily because of LA Food Culture, so do you think that this sort of style of eating and food preparation is going mainstream?
LC: No, it’s definitely still on the fringe edge. There’s still a huge market for the current system.
It’s really important that the produce is harvested the same day, because it provides the nutrient density that the body needs to thrive. A lot of chefs work directly with local farms, but they are more concerned with the flavor because the current system doesn’t allow for the time it takes to educate, build relationships, or even wash the dirt off the fresh produce.
FT: Who is getting it right in LA?
LC: A favorite of mine has always been Sun Cafe, which is a great vegan restaurant and it’s close to a local farm.
Cafe Gratitude is also great. They really take healthy cuisine seriously and even have a nonprofit dedicated to soil health. They have multiple locations and are expanding. They really understand the importance of the farmer and soil health.
Also Matthew Kenney in Venice has been a champion of using local ingredients and plant based cuisine.
FT: Now that you’ve moved away from LA, what do you see as some of the main differences in food culture between Missouri and LA?
LC: Missouri is way behind. We’re getting there, but we’re far behind. I feel like LA is finally being recognized for the food scene and the diversity. There is an abundance of real ethnic cuisine in very few cities and LA is one of them. It’s a cultural hotbed of deliciousness. Consciousness about food has also grown in the community and so much excitement and money has been put into the urban farming movement. Also really great things are happening in LA, with LA Kitchen as an example.
LA has positioned itself and will be known as a shining example for urban farming and in general one of the spots to go eat because of the diversity and the investments made in new cuisine and new technologies in urban farming.
FT: What do you see as some potential challenges or opportunities when it comes to the food system?
LC: The possibilities are unlimited. If you throw out the current system and the rules, it’s really exciting how many opportunities there are with eliminating food waste and feeding everyone healthy food. But the current food system is unsustainable. It’s the largest contributor to climate change. Western food culture affects everyone. Even though we’re starting to understand it, and the slow food movement is on the rise, we’re now pushing our culture to the rest of the world, so our bad habits are affecting everyone. We need to try to stop the damage that’s already been done, and quickly.
Western food culture is so dependent on large corporations and massive contracts with long deals, that it takes a long time to change things. For example in pro sports, if they want to introduce sustainable healthy foods into their arenas, they have to wait at least 7 years to get out of their current vendor contracts.
The opportunities lie in starting to break down the massive scale. Food has to get local. It’s a critical role of the chef. Chefs get to be creative with what’s available locally, and everyone in the chain has to be creative to make a more sustainable system.
FT: What is the best meal you’ve had in the last month?
LC: I’ll give an example of a dish as a broader example of what we’ve been talking about. Cooking for people in the middle of - I don’t want to say “meat and potato country,” but not far from it - can be exciting to share about eating healthy.
We make Wok Greens at the farm. We sear any greens from the farm in a wok with green onion, garlic scape (the green tops of garlic), and olive oil at a high temperature and mix that with roasted chickpeas. It tends to be a favorite dish for many people that wouldn’t ordinarily order vegan. They even say that it tastes like it has bacon in it!
Thank you so much to Loghan for taking the time to speak with us and talk about healthy, delicious, and sustainable food. Thank you to our readers for stopping by and we definitely encourage you to check out some of the restaurants that Loghan mentioned and maybe even try cooking up some wok greens!