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Turning Over a New Leaf: Rethinking the Way We Think About Fruits and Vegetables

THE EXPERT: Phillip Frankland Lee, Chef/Owner of The Gadarene Swine

Written By: Janea Wilson

Photographed By: Angel Manuel

Recently many restaurants have hopped onto the health nut bandwagon. Some menus highlight “lighter fare” or “healthier choices” with bright green leaf symbols next to designated dishes. Oftentimes, regular entrees can top out at over 2, 000 calories! And then there’s the singular focus on calorie count and fat content, whereas fresh, healthy eating should be more inspiring and thoughtful than that. That’s where our Eat Expert,  Chef Phillip Frankland Lee of The Gadarene Swine, comes in. While Chef Lee is not a vegan or vegetarian, his foray into veg-friendly cuisine will change your perceptions about what it means to dine veg and give you a whole new perspective when it comes to healthy eating.

On Ventura Boulevard in Studio City is where you’ll find The Gadarene Swine, the newest culinary adventure by Chef Phillip Frankland Lee. You may know Chef Lee from his Beverly Hills restaurant, Scratch|Bar, where the menu ranges from their Pork Belly and Raw Oysters to the Squid in a Box. So it’s a departure for Lee whose new menu is completely meat-free. About the concept for the restaurant, Lee says, “It was meant to be a nutritionally focused, fine dining restaurant that focused strictly on fruits and vegetables.” He says the entire menu is “vegan-friendly” (except for the honey in the olives), but that many of the people who dine at The Gadarene Swine do not abstain from meat at all.

If you’re wondering about the name, it comes from The Gadarene Swine Fallacy, a philosophical theory which brings to light that just because everyone is on the same path, it doesn’t necessarily make it the right one. This seems to be an appropriate metaphor for the concept of a produce-driven restaurant spearheaded by a carnivore chef.

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Q: As the head chef, how do you keep your menu fresh? Your plates look lovely, and the designs look well-planned. Do you ever find yourself in food-ruts, and how would you get out of one?

Phillip Frankland Lee: I’ve never been one to just grab a pen and paper and write down a menu or design a dish for that matter. Most dishes on the menu are completely spontaneous. People ask me frequently, “How often do you change your menu?” and I always reply the same: whenever I’m inspired and have a new idea. I might not change it for six weeks, but on the flip side, I might add four dishes on any given night.

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Q: How did you decide on an omakase-type tasting menu? How does it vary from your a la carte menu?

PFL: I hate ordering at restaurants. I hate choosing just one or even two items for dinner. I grew up in The Valley and frequented a lot of sushi bars as a kid, and I loved being able to ask the sushi chef to pick for me. I always thought, “Why are sushi bars the only place where you get this kind of experience?” So we offer a similar omakase-style tasting inside the kitchen at my other restaurant Scratch|Bar as well. It varies from the a la carte menu in the sense that it allows me more freedom to get a little bit weirder with the dishes.

Q: I read in a recent article that you use items on your menu that you can find in your typical neighborhood grocery store. Why do you think it is important to make healthy eating democratic and accessible?

PFL: You can pretty much find every ingredient we use at your local grocer, and even further, you can pretty much make every recipe at home, too. We don’t use fancy equipment or anything out of the ordinary that would limit a home cook. My goal was to make fine dining approachable, affordable, nutritious and fun. I didn’t want to open a restaurant with the intention of teaching people about new, obscure ingredients. I more or less wanted to say, “You had a cauliflower before, right? Well, try this!” I also just wanted to show people that they can eat healthy and fancy if they just look at what they already have from a different angle.

Q: Is there anything you won’t cook with or eat?

PFL: I hate coffee. It’s really the only flavor in the world I have yet to “acquire.” However, I do experiment with ideals of coffee from time to time. For example, at Scratch|Bar I was cooking coffee 30 degrees below proper extraction temperature for 18 hours in milk, then chilling and mixing with a mint puree before pouring over house-cured gravlax. That was yummy. I guess I don’t think that there is such a thing as bad ingredients, only bad execution.

Q: What are some misconceptions you think people have about eating healthy?

PFL: My biggest pet peeve is the “gluten- free” fad. Yes, there are people who are allergic to gluten, just as there are people who are allergic to peanuts. But gluten-free has become a “diet.” Gluten doesn’t hurt your body (unless you have celiac disease). The poison that the FDA requires large corporations to put into their breads as “preservatives” is what makes people feel groggy or get headaches. It would be the equivalent to saying that since pesticides are on “non- organic” vegetables, that now you are “veg-free.” But no, people are now opting to buy organic, right? So why not just seek out artisan product that was made by someone who cared about what they were feeding people?

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Q: Who are some of your influences right now? Who or what inspires you to keep cooking?

PFL: I think my guests at both restaurants and my cooks inspire me the most, oh, and my wife. I take all of their critiques and suggestions very seriously. Also, a lot of the meals my wife and I have at home often make it on to the menu in some form.

Q: How do you keep vegetables and fruit exciting?

PFL: I give people ingredients/dishes that they have a preconceived notion about and then I turn the item upside down.

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or releases you want to share or talk about?

PFL: I have two more projects in the pipeline. One in ATX, hopefully, seeing the light of day next summer and another here in Los Angeles. But yeah, as of now that’s all I can really say!

Q: What advice or tips do you have for anyone who wants to figure out how to start their own vegan/vegetarian/raw diet?

PFL: The biggest misconception about eating “healthy” is that everything will taste like grass. So, just don’t make it taste like grass! See—simple.

11266 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604