Acclaimed organic chef Akasha Richmond has been catering to Hollwood’s A-list for over fifteen years, but one doesn’t need to be a celebrity to eat at her new restaurant, Akasha, in LA. We chatted with the chef about her commitment to sustainability, the challenges of opening a restaurant, and why she would never go 100% organic.
What inspired your passion for sustainable cooking?
I grew up in Florida, and my mother got into natural cooking when I was in Junior High. She was one of those people that made her own bread and yogurt. I started cooking when I was 10 and taught myself out of cookbooks. I later went to college in San Diego and came to LA in the early eighties to study yoga. This was before I really thought about food as a profession. I ended up working at a vegetarian restaurant that was frequented by many celebrities. Michael Jackson used to eat there every day, and I took care of him. He was my first celebrity client. The year Thriller came out…
That’s quite the first client.
He was into the whole healthy thing. Now it’s called the organic movement; back then it was called was called the “natural foods” or “health foods” movement. The word organic used to have a really bad connotation: i.e. restaurants that served brown rice and sprouts. But organic has gotten major branding in the past couple of years. As you know, it’s now good.
Are you working towards an organic certification for your new restaurant, Akasha?
No, I wouldn’t even consider it—no one would want to pay those prices. We’re not a high-end restaurant; we’re an everyday restaurant. But we are committed to sustainability: from the organic waitstaff uniforms, to eco-efficient equipment, LED lighting, biodegradable containers, local ingredients… even down to the salt and organic pepper. We source as much as we can from California, but obviously coffee, sugar and chocolate aren’t. I start with the local, seasonal produce as a base and we build around it.
Things must be easier to source today than they were when you started your catering business back in the eighties.
Oh my god, it’s night and day. What’s great now is that a lot of products are available for food service that weren’t available before, like 50-lb sacks of organic sugar. But it’s still the beginning—there are certain things that I have a really hard time getting. Whole Foods has made foods accessible for retail, but for foodservice not everything is readily available. So there are things you can get, but you have to buy them in retail packages, like corn syrup, frozen French fries, certain cheeses.
And Akasha isn’t exactly a small operation—you’re doing as many as 300-400 covers on weekend nights with 150-200 covers for lunch.
It’s a lot. It’s been a learning process. We just opened so I’m still working out things that I think are problems… like this chicken salad that I’m eating right now which has way too much chicken in it. In the beginning, there’s something else every day.
What inspires you as a chef?
Ingredients. I am so excited for corn to come into season. I love corn. I love sautéed corn, I love creamed corn, I love corn fritters, I love corn in frittatas; I like all kinds of corn. I love corn on the cob. Don’t you love corn? I love corn.
I do love corn. But it’s not summer yet. What are your favorite things on the menu right now?
Pan Seared Wild Halibut; Sheep’s Milk Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi; and Baby Artichoke, Morrocoan Olive and Plum Tomato Sauté.
Akasha’s wine list features a good selection of organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines. What’s your favorite?
My favorite wine is Zind Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris and anything Robert Sinskey.
Do you feel that LA is a leader in the organic/sustainable movement?
I think that LA is maybe the leader in the produce section, but honestly there are great restaurants all over the country. New York, San Francisco. Unbelievable.
Any fun stories about working with celebrities?
Can’t share—I’m still in business in this town.
9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232