In these first few posts, I want to share some of the core principles, the driving ethics, of Local: Mission Eatery. These principles carry from the conception of Local, to its construction, and into its implementation as a sustained (and hopefully sustainable) articulation of what we aim to do and a personal reflection on how I came to do it.
A year ago, I was on the other side, the diner’s side. I had worked in a few kitchens and, at the close of every great meal, peeked in many more. Late at night, sleepless in bed, I envisioned my restaurant, filled with people eating my food (In my fantasies, I was the owner and chef). Yet, the more I interrogated my fantastic (fantastical?) restaurant and the more I peeked into real kitchens, the more I came to understand how little I knew. And the more I wanted to know, the more I wished for transparency.
What equipment do real chefs use? How many cooks are in the kitchen? Who does what? How is that cooked? What does that even look like raw? Where did you get it from? How can I get it?
Now, I am on this side. I own a restaurant (in which I am not the chef–It is Jake’s kitchen). So I aspire to offer transparency.
We designed two totally open kitchens (Jake’s savory kitchen and Shauna’s pastry kitchen). Guests–for lunch and even more so for dinner–spectate the ballet of well-trained chefs, cooking with speed and grace, efficiency and care. Their every gesture is deliberate and studied. How is that prepped and cooked? Watch Troy and Vineta, and then ask them for more details.
Cooking is all about the transformative magic of raw into cooked. We designed the restaurant around the existing meat locker, the only standing relic from Alhambra Meat Market, which preceded us at 3111 24th St. Though reset and reframed, we kept the huge window into the walk-in refrigerator. Not only does this open our raw vegetables, fruit, dairy, seafood, and meat–of which we are proud–to our diners, it reveals the ways chefs organize and store, maximize yields, and manage inventory.
The space can only tell what it is and what happens when it arrives, but the full story predates the kitchen and the walk-in. From where did that huge box of tangelos come? Shauna’s grandfather’s farm, picked by Jake on his day off. How about the dozens of bunches of asparagus? Zuckerman Farms via the Marin or Ferry Building Farmers Markets. And where do you get your fish? Always locally, sourced by Monterey Fish Company in Berkeley. Those one-hundred pound lambs hanging? Pozzi farms, delivered by Michael Biagio of Biagio Meats. Of course, we can tell you, but our website does it more thoroughly. Our website cannot tell how to build a restaurant nor how to run it (Nor can I. We are only a month in). Yet, as much as possible, it aims to withdraw the curtain.
Lastly, we conceived of the library and labs as ultimate transparency. We do what magicians never do: We reveal our tricks (the library) and teach how to do them (the labs). We do so for two reasons. First, we love food and we want you to eat great food more often. Second (and this is a little more self-serving), if you are like me, the more I food I ate, the more kitchens in which I peeked, the more questions I asked, and more the I cooked at home, the more I came to appreciate the differences, the skill, the beauty, and the tastes.
One month in, I still pinch myself. I am neither sleepless in bed with visions of my restaurant nor dreaming. I own a restaurant, for real. Now, I am on this side, behind the curtain. Despite all of the careful attention and diligent research, I realize now there are always more curtains. Every day, I peek in my kitchen and walk-in to find a new secret. Every day, I ask my chefs questions, inspired by their skills, moved by the tastes. Every day, I learn, as I did before, how to bring it back to the other side–my home kitchen.
- Yaron Milgrom