3823 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026 (Silver Lake Neighborhood)
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Friday, May 28, 2010
Jason Kim was a tobacco distributor looking to get out of “peddling poison” when he decided to take his savings and go to cooking school. “I knew that I wanted to open a business,” he says. “And the businesses that were most interesting to me were restaurants.” He attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena in 2002, and began working towards learning everything he could about food and restaurants.
In 2003 he was fortunate to get an externship with Chef Sylvain Portay, who was Executive Chef at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. “I wanted to work for the craziest, most neurotic French Chef,” says Jason. “Chef Portay has worked at the best restaurants in the world, and all the stuff that I thought I knew from cooking school turned out to be completely wrong according to him. He tortured me for three months, and that was when I learned that I truly want to be in the kitchen.”
After wrapping up his externship, Jason stayed in San Francisco for a while before returning to Los Angeles in 2004 to work at L’Orangerie for about 18 months. “At that time I was only interested in working in French fine-dining kitchens,” says Jason. The restaurant closed in 2006, but its reputation up until that point was as the leader of fine French dining in Los Angeles.
In searching for his next move, Jason was minutes away from accepting a position at a restaurant in Napa, when he got a call to come in for an interview at Lucques. “Working at Lucques was my first exposure to market-driven menus,” says Jason. “Everything was simple and seasonal – we would go out to find the best possible ingredients available at the time.” During his four years working with Chef Suzanne Goin, Jason became a sous chef, and was tasked with going to the Farmers Markets to source the best ingredients.
At that point, Jason felt he knew the restaurant that he wanted to open, and so he found a location in Silver Lake and opened Forage, a unique concept in a crowded market. Forage serves fresh, seasonal foods in a casual dining setting, but what makes the concept truly unique is the idea of “foraging.” Upon opening, Jason invited local backyard (urban) farmers to bring their crops to him for incorporation into his menu. The idea caught on quickly, and the crowd of urban farmers grew each week in size and camaraderie. “People were sharing their tips and really enjoying getting to know each other,” says Jason.
A confused Health Department wasn’t sure how to cite the restaurant, but it did step in to say that restaurant food sources must be approved. Jason had to halt the program for a few months, but he is getting ready to re-launch it now that he has discovered that he can get the urban farmers certified by the Health Department fairly easily and for a nominal fee.
“It was pretty sad when we had to stop,” says Jason. “It had become a community event.” Jason says that he is slowly certifying his urban farmers, which will allow them to sell their food anywhere. “It’s really exciting – we are the first restaurant to do this.”
“At Forage we have counter service for high-quality food at an affordable price,” says Jason. “All of the food is simple and bought at the Farmers Market. It’s food that anyone can and should do, and guests can tell the difference.”
Jason says that ultimately what he is looking to do is take his guests back to a time when people ate the food that grew regionally and seasonally. “It’s good for everyone – the farmers, the people who eat it,” says Jason. “That is what really makes me excited.”