Our new Chef’s Pick is something really special, and we’re excited to share it with you starting on Monday! We have collaborated with Chef Bryant Ng of Cassia in Santa Monica to create a sandwich inspired by his legendary Chickpea Coconut Curry. The sandwich combines shaved, roasted Mary’s free-range chicken breast, a housemade scallion lemongrass relish, fresh herb salad, and fontina cheese and is served on rustic white bread grilled with a crispy layer of provolone outside each slice to add texture. To top it all off, it comes with a side of that unforgettable Chickpea Coconut Curry to dip. You can get it at most Mendo locations (except our NorCal restaurants and our Downtown LA and West Hollywood restaurants in LA) for $12.95 from March 12 – March 25, and 100% of profits from sales of the sandwich will be donated to The People Concern, a nonprofit close to Chef Bryant’s heart. And SaMo residents, heads up! Chef Bryant himself will be making an appearance at our Santa Monica location and serving up sandwiches on Monday, March 12th from 12:00 – 1:30pm!
Read on for an exclusive interview between Mendocino Farms Co-Founder Ellen Chen and Chef Bryant, where he shares his passion for serving people (in more ways than one), the inspiration behind his culinary genius, and his commitment to giving back to his community. And make sure to check out what Food & Wine and Eater have to say about the collab!
ELLEN: Why did you say yes to a collaboration with Mendocino Farms?
CHEF BRYANT: When I first spoke to Mendo about doing a Charity Sandwich, I thought that it would be something fun to do. Mendocino Farms has a philosophy of using great ingredients and is incredibly thoughtful about preparing food in a way that can reach a very broad audience. I’m inspired by how you have the ability to feed so many people yet maintain a certain level of quality despite that volume, and be at an approachable price point. I wish I were able to do that. So, when Mario asked if I was interested in doing a Charity Sandwich, I knew it was an opportunity to collaborate with people I respect, but to also raise funds for a charity we really value. The charity we are working with is The People Concern, which helps improve the lives of those who are homeless, food insecure, or victims of domestic violence by helping them to become housed, healthy, and safe.
E: Were you surprised by the fanaticism created by your Cassia Chickpea Coconut Curry? How did you come up with the idea?
CB: I’m always surprised when the word fanaticism is used in the same sentence as something that I cook. Thanks for the compliment. The chickpea curry dish was originally the chicken curry dish I had at my first restaurant, The Spice Table. I basically substituted the chickpeas for the chicken and here we are.
E: Why did you choose The People Concern as the beneficiary?
CB: When I first had the opportunity to meet some of the folks working at The People Concern, I immediately felt their level of dedication to what they do. It was palpable. I left inspired by the difference they were making in other people’s lives through their care and dedication. Our world, in general, seems to be in such conflict and is so divisive. It was heartening to see people doing good in the world.
Shorty after visiting The People Concern, I learned that one of our most valued employees at Cassia, our lead cook Sammy Santana, was previously a resident at SAMOSHEL, an interim shelter operated by The People Concern (previously OPCC when Sammy was there) in Santa Monica. When Sammy and I made this connection, I knew that we were working with the right people. Sammy is living proof that The People Concern really helps and changes lives. Sammy’s had a difficult past and has told me that The People Concern was instrumental in turning his life around by giving him support, discipline, and opportunity. Knowing that Cassia has such a direct, intimate relationship with The People Concern, the Universe was telling me that we were meant to work with them in any capacity that we can.
E: We hear one of the most important elements of being a Chef is selecting the best ingredients. What do you think Cassia and Mendocino Farms have in common in terms of the ingredients we use?
CB: Not only is selecting the best ingredients really important, but what you do to those ingredients can make all the difference. I believe we’re both committed to using the best ingredients, but it was during the collaborative process of working on the Charity Sandwich [with Chef Jeremy Bringardner, Mendocino Farms’ Corporate Executive Chef] that I learned how much thoughtfulness goes into Mendo’s menu items. Chef Jeremy and I spent time testing and tasting a lot of different versions of the sandwich. That was a very fun and creative process. All the while, we were considering how to make the sandwich as consistent as possible at as many of the Mendocino Farms stores as possible. Consistency is one of the hardest things to do in a restaurant. At Cassia, one of the things that keeps me up late at night is trying to figure out how to make our food as consistent as possible so that if you ate our Pot Au Feu last year and then ordered it today, it should taste the same. Being creative is really only one aspect of being a Chef. Maintaining quality and consistency is our duty and responsibility to our guests. Working with Jeremy, I realized that we have the same mentality in terms of providing the same great experience for our guests over and over again. We’re not perfect and it’s impossible to be 100% consistent, but we definitely try.
E: Where do you find culinary inspiration? What is a recent inspiration?
CB: Traveling is always a large part of inspiration. My wife and business partner Kim and I are currently in Vietnam and I’m inspired not only by the food, but by the people as well. It inspires me to be thoughtful and honor the generations of culinary tradition. Cassia is by no means a traditional Vietnamese, Singaporean, Chinese, Southeast Asian, or French restaurant, so traveling back to the Motherland inspires me to respect all the culinary generations that have come before. This is something really important to me, especially as cross-cultural cuisine in America continues to evolve.
E: What’s your ultimate Mendocino Farms meal?
CB: “Avocado & Quinoa Superfood Ensalada.” I really love all the textures and flavors in this salad. The mix of lettuces, vegetables, grains and crispies, make the salad really satisfying.
E: Summarize your life as a Chef in one hashtag