California has a unique juxtaposition of food philosophies. While they are known for their fresh, seasonal, organic and local produce; California is also the birth place of several large fast food chains. Orange County has a rolling landscape, very different from the grid street system in Chicago; everything is much more spread out. Californian strip malls display a hodge-podge of cuisines, from recognizable big national fast food chains to specific regional chains like In-and-Out Burger. While you can walk a block and have the option to eat any kind of fast food fare from a burger to fried chicken, you can also find restaurants that serve solely local and organic food.
We ate dinner at True Foods Kitchen, a restaurant known for their fresh choices and local food. Their food philosophy is clear and echoes throughout their entire restaurant, the décor, the menu, each plate is simple and balanced, clean and concise. We ordered several courses: miso soup, tofu and shitake lettuce cups, and a caramelized onion tart to start. All of their appetizers are light and simple. The caramelized onion tart was one of the best I’ve ever had, with gorgonzola cheese and dried dates, it was unexpected and satisfying. Next, we ordered the Farmer’s Market Salad. I could eat this salad every day. Big pieces of apples roasted squash, goat cheese, walnuts with light vinaigrette. I ordered roast chicken with faro, walnuts, dried cranberries and red spinach for two reasons: I read once that a good roast chicken is the sign of a good chef and I was intrigued by the idea of “red spinach”, and it did not disappoint.
This style of cooking really speaks to me. I left feeling full but not stuffed, satisfied and inspired. The food was able to speak for itself, which I think is one of the biggest challenges of being a chef. Simplicity is the hardest discipline to master. My plate had 5 components, this allows the diner to focus on the details, which can make or break a dish.
When I take a step back and look at the bigger picture of Californian cuisine, it makes a lot of sense. Some fast food chains are desperately trying to use more quality ingredients, to add healthier options and to show that their food is real and not overly processed. I think In- and-Out does a good job of balancing decadence with freshness. There is nothing wrong with eating a hamburger, but if it’s been processed, loaded with fillers and frozen, the integrity of the food has been compromised. People who have never cared what they eat have started to wonder what exactly is in their food; it’s a trend that I’m genuinely excited about. Chicago has plenty of food deserts, places where people’s only option is often fast food, if fast food restaurants can swap out their processed and deep fried foods for some veggies and fresh foods, it could really help a lot of people out.
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