L.A. Chefs by Sandy: Meet Jasmine Shimoda
This week, our guest food editor, Sandy Ho, put something special together to highlight six Los Angeles-based chefs. We are so honored to share the work of these incredible creators and hope you will join us in support of their initiatives. Here, Sandy chats with Jasmine Shimoda of Jewel LA on how she got her start, what makes her move, and how she has been affected by this incredible and unprecedented moment in time.
SH: How has Covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter movement affected you and your business?
JS: I think most of us in the States had a similar experience with hearing about "Corona Virus aka Covid-19" on the news and going from processing it as a peripheral threat to very quickly experiencing it as a real threat and disruptor to life as we know it. For Jewel, once the "Shelter in Place" was announced we lost 70-80% of our business overnight. So this is where my and my partner's experience may be quite different from others who were furloughed and forced to quarantine. We had to let go of most of our staff and run the business by ourselves. Hustle Hustle Hustle. We essentially have been quarantined in our own restaurant just trying to survive the financial blow of this epidemic.
With regards to Covid and the civil unrest in this country and beyond; of course, both have brought on heightened anxiety, stress, fear, and anger, but they have also ushered in a heightened sense of awareness and civic duty towards our fellow humans and toward our own self-care. We no longer have the luxury of being comfortable and complacent. We are all now responsible and towards each other's physical and mental health. There is a new sense of accountability.
SH: Describe a pivotal moment in your career that has led you to where you are now.
JS: One summer I left the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC with about 50 pound of melons on my bicycle. Somewhere around 14th St. and 3rd Ave. a bag of herbs got caught in my front wheel and I went over my handlebars and broke two ribs. I was not wearing a helmet and I'm lucky my head didn't end up like one of those melons. I went to work anyway and 14 hours later quietly took myself to the emergency room. I had no insurance. My boss later gave me $200 and I thought wow Jasmine, you really need to rethink your priorities!!!
Here I am killing myself to make fancy food only for people that can afford it! I decided I wanted to use my talents to make healthy yet ambitious food accessible to all people and to take better damn care of myself!
SH: What empowers you to wake up in the morning and what keeps you up at night?
JS: The thought that I can carve out a little time for myself whether it be exercise, meditation, or activism before the day goes haywire. The thought that each day is a new opportunity to be better in some way. I know that sounds trite but it's truly one of the things that propel me in the morning.
At night, I am often kept up by a long list of anxieties ranging from petty to profound__"Did I remember to add on chives to my order?" to "Did I say/do something hurtful to someone today?"
But I am naturally a night owl so sometimes I am kept awake by a surge of creativity and that feels really good even if I pay for it the next day.
SH: Tell us about one dish that changed your opinion on food/people/love/ingredients.
JS: Oh wow, what a great question! The intersection of food, people, love, and ingredients is probably one of the most interesting things in the world to me!
I had the opportunity once as a young chef to travel to Mexico City by myself and eat at the Michelin starred restaurant 'Pujol,' Enrique Olvera's ambitious love letter to indigenous ingredients. Upon arriving they serve you a mezcal 'con sal de gusano' or worm salt. Once I got past the mental block and tried it it totally blew my mind. The earthy salinity paired with the smoky piquant ceremonial tasting mezcal was a simple yet explosive pairing of something classic, something indigenous, and something new. Sorry if that was more of a drink than a dish! The courses that followed all had the balance and finesse expected from a Michelin starred restaurant but they also had something different. A punch in the face of explosive, ancestral flavors amplified by modern techniques most mostly by reverence, memory, and love. This meal made me think differently about fine dining, indigenous people, culture, perception, and the universal love language of food.
SH: Where do you see yourself in the future of food for the world?
JS: I believe the future of food is plant-forward conscious and inclusive. I think I have a strong voice not just as a QWOC but as a chef and advocate.
SH: How can we stay up to date with what you’re doing?