In trying to work 52 jobs in a year, I did expect a few hiccups along the way. Somewhere during the year, I was bound to receive a cancellation and end up looking for work last-minute. Arriving in LA a few weeks back that day arrived. The restaurant I was due to work at had shut up shop and flown to Copenhagen for the MAD culinary symposium. Jobless, I had no other option than to do what I had been secretly dreading – cold calling restaurants for work.
After several botched attempts, my host for the week Dan, suggested I call Cafe Gratitude, a nearby organic vegan restaurant. A few minutes later and armed with a heavy dose of Yorkshire charm, I had my secured my next job. From goat slaughtering to a vegan restaurant; I couldn’t have picked two more contrasting jobs in the space of a week.
Cafe Gratitude gives huge prominence to food that supports health and sustainability for both their community and the planet. The fascinating part, however, is their belief in ‘Sacred Commerce’, a philosophy of “honest and transparent communication, and gratitude for the richness of our lives”. All dishes are given affirmations such as ‘I am HUMBLE’ or ‘I am FABULOUS’, so clients “can practice affirming great qualities in themselves”. Staff also ask you a philosophical question when you order. But this was no shack bashing out bowls of quinoa to tie-dye hippies, this was a pristine marble-topped restaurant serving gourmet food to LA’s rich and famous. I wanted to find out more.
My time at Cafe Gratitude was split between two areas: the pastry section, and cooking on the line. Having already worked at a patisserie, it was interesting to learn about the challenges faced when adapting traditionally dairy based recipes for the vegan market. Cafe Gratitude pride themselves on offering some of the best vegan desserts around and after stealing a few cheeky tasters it was hard not to agree with them. ‘ADORING’, a tiramisu with almond cake, espresso and coconut cashew cream? ‘IRRESISTIBLE’, a coconut cream pie with chocolate swirl and dark chocolate crust? Gratitude’s creativeness opened my mind to many different approaches to dessert making.
Working on the line, assembling the main dishes presented a few challenges. Firstly, it was the weekend and so service was at its busiest. Secondly, I had limited time to learn the menu and what to plate up. Finally, like many kitchens in the States, the staff spoke Spanish and so at times communication was difficult. Maybe it was the lack of heat (a great deal of the dishes are raw) but this was one of the most relaxed and happy kitchens I have worked in.
Intrigued by the tranquil kitchen I asked head chef Dreux whether their ‘Sacred Commerce’ philosophy had anything to do with it. In a Louis Theroux moment, Dreux divulged their connection to the Landmark Education course, something that he felt contributed to the pleasant kitchen atmosphere, although cynics have referred to it as a sinister cult. Dreux then invited me to experience part of this by participating in a practice called ‘clearing’. Surely an opportunity I couldn’t pass up?
I nervously sat opposite one of the waitresses to take part in my first ‘clearing’. She asked me question such as “with who or what do you feel incomplete?”, repeating my answers back. The next step is to acknowledge how your responses make you feel before answering one last question designed to affirm being in the present such as “what is perfect about you?”. Admittedly talking about my most personal feelings to a complete stranger was somewhat terrifying. Nonetheless, once complete, I felt exhilarated.
The full impact of ‘Sacred Commerce’ and its presence in the business was hard to see during my limited time at the restaurant. Organic, raw, vegan food and a therapy session – all in all it had been a very ‘LA’ experience and one I am grateful for.