Local chef is motivated by his search for best possible produce

| June 28, 2018 | 0 Comments

KALI chef Kevin Meehan says Southern California offers some of the best produce in the world.

It’s summer in Los Angeles, which means that gardens, grocers and farmers’ markets are teeming with juicy, plump produce. And at least one local chef credits his restaurant’s success, in part, on his ability to bring that California farm-fresh produce to your plate.

Chef Kevin Meehan, who opened Kali restaurant on Melrose Avenue in 2016, says it’s the hunt for “the best” ingredients that keeps him motivated week to week.

“In this day and age, we have availability of almost anything in the world, at any given time. I can buy Spanish mackerel and get it shipped in Styrofoam boxes,” says chef Meehan on a recent afternoon at his restaurant.

“But I prefer the back-to-basics method, of sorts: I use what’s around me.”

Meehan is describing his approach to sourcing local, farm-fresh produce — a process that, he explains, takes time and, in some cases, requires a relationship with the farmer.

“It’s how I get the good stuff,” he says.

Taking matters into his own hands earlier this year, Meehan converted the front lawn of a Lucerne Boulevard property — with the homeowner’s permission, of course — into a garden, outfitted with nine 12-foot by 3-foot raised garden beds.

GARDEN BOXES decorate a front lawn with herbs that will one day be used at Kali.

“I use that space as an ornamental garden,” he says. “We grow fresh herbs and specialty plants right there.” In June, the beds were bursting with kale, mustard frills, parsley, rosemary and sage, to name a few.

For larger produce, Meehan says he leaves it to the professionals: “I can do some things better than the tomato guy, but growing a tomato isn’t one of them.”

That means you can find the Culver City resident scouring local farmers’ markets several days a week: “I go to the Santa Monica farmers’ market on Wednesdays, and the Hollywood farmers’ market on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Of course, farmers’ markets are open to the public too, which means Meehan needs a strategy to get the ripest avocados and freshest fish; for him, that means nurturing a long-term relationship directly with the vendors.

“Relationships are important. It’s become indirectly one of my biggest strengths at the restaurant because, through these relationships, I get the crème de la crème.”

Grabbing his phone, Meehan scrolls through emails to show a recent exchange with his “sea urchin lady”: She tells him about her day’s catch in Santa Barbara, and he tells her how many he will take. They stay in contact regularly, he says.

“I like to think that my relationships with these farmers have come to a point where I am getting the best of the market at any given week. And I bring that back to the restaurant,” says Meehan.

The result is that 90 percent of Kali’s menu is wild, local, sustainable and organic. “But we don’t make a big deal about it — we’re not Urth Café.”

In fact, it’s not a new concept for Meehan, who says it’s just the best way to do it:

“If this was 200 years ago in a small town in Italy, it’s what they would do: nothing processed, and everything is local and fresh. And it worked for those guys.”

Southern California has the best farmers’ markets in America, according to Meehan, who says that it’s his job to showcase that on your plate.

“I get compliments that ‘these peas are the best peas I’ve ever had,’ and all that I can say is: ‘I know.’”

This summer, Kali’s most farm-fresh ingredients will be displayed on a new menu item: A tomato and berry salad, served with burrata cheese and toasted almonds.

Visit kalirestaurant.com.

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Category: People

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