From Garden to Table in L.A.

From Garden to Table in L.A.

NAME: Jason Kim AGE: 37
NEIGHBORHOOD: Silver Lake, Los Angeles
OCCUPATION: Jason is the chef-owner of Forage, a counter-service restaurant that got its start serving dishes made with produce that Silver Lake residents harvested from their own yards. The spot has since become more of a creative commune (with fantastic food) than a simple takeout joint.

My wife and I moved to Silver Lake from San Francisco when we got married six years ago. We were drawn to the area because it was unique, with cool shops, creative people, and a very friendly vibe—but we never found a place where we could drop in to eat on a regular basis. So I decided to create my own.

When we were opening the restaurant two-and-a-half years ago, my friend Eugene Ahn and I were writing a blog, Forage L.A. One of our posts reported on Fallen Fruit, an L.A.–based collective that maps where fruit is grown in public places and encourages locals to go pick it. That made me think about my neighbor, who has a tree in his backyard that grows these huge, juicy lemons. Every year he’d throw away garbage pails of them—even though they tasted far better than the ones you’d buy at the store from Chile.

There are tons of stories like his. I didn’t set out to create a hangout, or to be the most locavore guy in Los Angeles. I just thought it would be cool if our restaurant didn’t have to buy from the big growers, if we just told our neighbors, “Hey, bring in your produce.”

We opened in February 2010, and the first week, two garden hobbyists showed up with a bag of lemons each. The second week, five people came with tangelos, blood oranges, and other citrus. By the third week, 15 people were lined up to barter their produce for a free meal or restaurant credit. We had 300 pounds of produce turn up in the first month. People brought in Italian chicories and stuff I’d never seen even when I was a chef for L’Orangerie and Lucques scouring all of the local farmers’ markets. People in Silver Lake have a lot of pride of place, and they are pretty good urban farmers! Whenever we received amazing produce that we turned into regular dishes, we would give foragers a shout-out on the menu, like “Robert’s Coronado Street Salad,” made with greens from a really nice guy who’s a former event planner. The response was awesome. It was almost like we built a little family, where writers, music producers, and other supercreative people would gather and talk about what they were growing.

The restaurant has become so neighborhood friendly that our regulars even bring me dishes that I recreate. There is one woman from Turkey who brought me this dish called çerkez tavuğu, based on a comfort food from her childhood. We described it on our menu as chicken salad with walnuts, garlic, and radish, seasoned with pepper from the Urfa region of Turkey, which we source from Spice Station next door. The process at Forage is like that; it’s very interactive and collaborative.

When we opened Forage, Silver Lake was really all locals; it was not a destination neighborhood. But now nonlocals come here on the weekends, people from the Westside of L.A., from Hollywood. It’s really starting to become a place to go. Silver Lake has heart and soul.

The people who live here are passionate about whatever they do, whether it’s art or gardening. I see that ethos only growing; there are more mom-and-pop-type shops opening every week. And you can’t beat my customers—I can make almost anything, and they will try it. I got hold of some lamb neck, and, not to talk badly about the Westside, but if I were serving that over there, no one would give it a try. Here, it sold out. Every customer was sucking on the bones.

As told to Heidi Mitchell. Photo by Amanda Friedman. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.

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