The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

In the Kitchen with Chef Jason Kwon

In the Kitchen with Chef Jason Kwon

In the Kitchen

January 30, 2011

Jason Kwon is the Founder and Executive Director of Couteaux Review, an epicurean organization that focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture. Prior to taking on this role, Kwon spent three years as the Executive Chef of Joshu-ya in California, where he won the Best of Berkeley Award two years running. He also currently serves as culinary director of Eat Savory, a sustainable catering company based in Washington D.C. We talked to Kwon about the many benefits of supporting local agriculture.  

What is the main focus of your cooking?

It’s no secret that extraordinary dishes require extraordinary ingredients. When creating a star dish, you need premium quality products. You can’t fool anybody by cutting corners. With that said, the main focus of my cooking is based on creating dishes that are well balanced and have simple but savory flavors.

Is there a particular nutritional focus of your menus?

I try my best to use natural ingredients that come from sustainable sources. Whether it’s produce, meats or poultry, sustainable ingredients always have superior flavor, texture, longevity and health benefits. The organic vegetables that I use at Eat Savory taste delicious and contain more vitamins and minerals than those from industrial sources. 

What is your relationship with local farmers?

Local farmers are the gate keepers. It’s important to establish good relations with them. When I was at Joshu-ya, all of our fish purveyors sold us sushi grade products that were caught wild or were from sustainable fish farms.

Are you incorporating locally grown foods into your dishes? How?

I use local products whether I’m at the restaurant or in my home kitchen. Local foods are fresher, taste better and are fun to use. Eat Savory only uses locally grown produce. This past Thanksgiving, I roasted a turkey that would convert any naysayer. The turkey was juicy, rich and had decadent texture. Purchasing an organically raised turkey may cost more, but it’s definitely worth it, especially during the holidays with family and friends. All of my guests were pleasantly surprised – one even exclaimed, “Best turkey ever, but don’t tell mum!”
What are the major concerns today of your patrons when it comes to dining out? And how are you addressing them?

Many of the local restaurant patrons in Berkeley have scaled back their consumption over the past few years. In order to be mindful of the economic times, we have had to be slightly more creative with new menu items.

What steps does your restaurant take toward conservation?

Glass, aluminum, grease, paper, you name it, and we recycle it. I use the leftover kitchen scraps as fertilizer for my personal garden. I grow a variety of fruits, which we then use for sauces, dressings and marinades at the restaurant.

How important is sustainability?

The notion of sustainability has so many implications. The livelihoods of local farming communities depend on sustainable agriculture. It’s essential to recognize the importance of local farmers growing natural, seasonal, regional and varietal crops. Without local farmers, we would all be subjected to consuming questionable meats and produce from industrial sources. Needless to say, other benefits of sustainability agriculture include the humane treatment of other living creatures, as well as the preservation of our land quality.

How important is traceability?

Traceability goes hand in hand with sustainability. At the restaurant, we know exactly where all of our produce comes from. While we don’t list our purveyors on our menu, many restaurants in larger epicurean cities are doing so. Traceability can be a serious competitive advantage in the restaurant business. It shows people that you care about the environment and are serious about food.