Chef Greg Arnold puts his artistic skills into every one of his dishes to make a masterpiece. Consistency makes us swoon over his culinary techniques. The man known to open the hottest plant based restaurants in Southern California including, Sage, Matthew Kinney's Plant Food and Wine, and most recently, the Santa Barbara gem Mesa Verde. Clearly he is keeping up with the momentum. With his new line of activated herbs and spices created in partnership with Scott Linde and Nitsa Citrine (of Sun Potion), we now take a piece of the creation home with us and create our own culinary flare. We sat down with Chef Arnold to find out more about the past, present, and future.
1. What led you to become a chef?
I grew up drawing and painting and spent most of my life making albums and touring as a guitarist...so I’ve always been an artist...so to speak. To me, my food tastes and looks exactly as my music sounds...a sort of ethereal synesthesia. I just really loved the creation of dishes, and somewhere along the line I began to love cooking more than I loved making records... I was introduced to the cuisine of Ferran Adria and Jose Andres when they were pioneering what we now know to be modern Mediterranean cuisine. I always found kitchen work to be meditative... the chaos and the pressure somehow slows my mind down, and I can function much better in the eye of that storm.
2. What inspired you to focus on plant-based cuisine?
When I began cooking plant-based food in little vegan restaurants in LA, it was still a pretty underground, sort of punk rock thing to do. Vegan food was still a haven for weirdos! For myself, I wasn’t really eating meat and had since childhood been into the ethics of groups like CRASS and Rudimentary Peni...who were advocating for animal rights, anti-war, etc…Now, I am completely obsessed with plants. I understand the inner workings and strengths and weaknesses of all these plants on a molecular level...I understand how they will react and function to so many different cooking techniques...the reactions and the unlocking of the flavors are an endless exploration that I get to dive into and record on a daily basis.
3. What are your favorite ingredients to cook with?
Fresh spring produce is by far my favorite! The super green vibrance of spring vegetables is just amazing...and the balance between grilling them or scorching them with big fire and the contrast of all the raw fresh greens and delicate herbs is something I am currently obsessed with.
4. Favorite spices?
I just starting creating my own spice and Umami blends called Tournefortia, with Sun Potion tonic herbs mixed in. My favorite spices mostly come from the middle east: Za’atar, Saffron, Aleppo, Sumac...they are all so earthy and intoxicating. I also love the succinct simplicity of Japanese spice. As a chef I have been experimenting with dehydrating and grinding vegetables into their own spice powders...for example, seasoning a fresh cucumber in its own powder adds an especially deep level of cucumberness. Tournefortia embodies all of those concepts mixed with the superfoods...a very modern spice for a very modern kitchen.
5. Your plates are so beautiful. What inspires your artistic touch to the plating?
It all goes back to my love for the abstract expressionists...Cy Twombly is my man! Also, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Franz Kline. I am very inspired by Japanese photographers, like Daido Moriyama and Araki...and of course the loose experimentation and exploration of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead…I’m also very into 20th century avant garde composition like Iannis Xenakis, Steve Reich, Morton Subotnick, and the kind of mechanical, synthesized precision of Tangerine Dream and Autechre. I could listen to Tangerine Dream forever.
6. What inspires your food?
EVERYTHING inspires my food! My day, my life, the vegetables, the weather, the feeling in the air that day...I have, over the years, really built my own culinary vocabulary... I am not so inspired by other people’s food, but more by whatever it is that I’m thinking and feeling on that day. It’s a rather solitary process for me...more of a reflection.
7. What is your ultimate vision?
My vision in the kitchen is still the same every day...to bring delicious, modern, organic food to our guests. There is a whole massive wave of modern culture and thinking that happens before I present the dishes on a table at dinnertime...sustainability, locality, organics, farms, farmers...as a chef, I feel like an alchemist, transforming all that passion and energy into something tangible...something that can be delicious and beautiful, and bring someone so much pleasure.
8. What rituals keep you in a creative state?
My whole life is a ritual. From waking up everyday and making the bed and drinking my cups of Genmai Cha tea. Going to the gym, sitting zazen, taking saunas...When I get into the kitchen, I set everything up in the same way, in the same place, at the same time, everyday...I’m like a borderline OCD guy.
9. What is your favorite restaurant?
I’m not sure I have one favorite restaurant...I have my spot for ramen, I have my spot for tacos, I have my spot for tea, etc… but I will say that my guilty pleasure spot is Gjelina in Venice...FOR SURE!
10. When you’re not in the kitchen, where would we find you?