118 Degrees is a place I've been meaning to try since it first opened, but that doesn't mean I haven't been fantasizing about its Restaurant Week menus every year. Jenny Ross is the brains and beauty behind this vegan gem, and this week, we have the opportunity to learn more about her background, including how playing make-believe as a young girl inspired her to open a restaurant.
Presenting Part One of our three-part series on Jenny Ross.
What are six words to describe your food?
Fresh, creative, fun, healthy, clean, energizing.
What are 10 words to describe you?
Creative, fun, passionate, high-energy, inspired, soulful, peaceful, chef, mom, coach.
Your best recent food find:
Coconut butter. The saturated fat in coconut has been proven to actually improve health, and this coconut butter is delicious! (On everything--it's basic, and it's fun.)
Most undervalued ingredient:
Sea salt--without salt, nothing has flavor. High-quality salts--Himalayan and Celtic sea salts, for instance--are actually food supplements with more than 100 trace minerals the body needs.
Rules of conduct in your kitchens:
Accountability: Everyone takes full accountability of his or her work.
Team Work: We are all a team; since we make everything from scratch, this is imperative. We don't rely on anyone else to make any part of our food offering.
Cleanliness: An organized and clean workspace is a must when you are doing a high volume of work in less than 500 square feet.
Innovation: Everything we do is outside of the box; we are constantly looking to continue to improve on our offerings.
Fresh: Our produce arrives daily; this is the key to success when relying on the intrinsic flavors of fresh produce.
One food you detest, besides the obvious animal flesh:
Grapefruit. I know it's good for you, but one bad grapefruit, and you never go back.
One food you can't live without:
Greens of all kinds. I used to think this was rabbit food until I learned that my health and "good feelings" were directly attached to how much of it I consumed.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Local strawberries. When you get the great organic strawberries at a place such as Southcoast Farms, you will never go back.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
None! Sorry, I haven't had fast food for 10 years--for real!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
In terms of living cuisine, planing is everything. It seems overwhelming to try a new style of food preparation out, so the better you plan, the more success you have. It's always helpful to take an interactive class, then you have hands-on experience with preparation and can use that at home.
Favorite celebrity chef:
Giada. I love her energy.
Celebrity chef who should shut up:
Don't really know, but sometimes I wish Paula Dean would use better ingredients.
Favorite music to cook by:
House music by Mark Farina
Best food city in America:
What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Organics. We have lots of it available here. If we worked together as a collective to support more local farms in growing this way, the prices would drop, and there would be more supply.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Pulled-pork sandwiches and "gourmet burgers."
Ana Getty's most recent book, Easy Green Organic. It's basic and easy--anyone can use it.
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Teaching and coaching. I spend a lot of time teaching in the community about how to prepare living foods and integrate this into your lifestyle.
What motivated you to open a restaurant?
Since I was a little girl, I would play "restaurant" with my grandma--no one understood it, but I loved all the elements of it. Not just the food: For me, it was the process of a beautiful dish that would create an experience for someone. Adding the health component to it sealed the deal for me 20 years later, when I opened my first restaurant. I felt really good about serving people food that could help them heal, with the same beauty as many traditional restaurants had.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Durian--it smells like rotten eggs, and the taste is not much better, but they say the health benefits are enormous.
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You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Superfood Smoothie: one banana, 1 cup almond milk, 1 Tbsp. raw chocolate, 1 Tbsp. coconut butter, 1 tsp. maca root, 1 tsp. Supergreens, 1 Tbsp. raw honey. Delicious!
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Heads of Tuscan kale.
Weirdest customer request?
Well, at a restaurant that caters to special requests, we have seen a lot! The most challenging is always when folks are allergic to onions and garlic--to make a flavorful raw dish without it always requires making a special sauce on the spot (no matter how busy we are).