CHEF TO WATCH – NICK ERVEN
It is difficult enough to become one of the best cooks in the country. But how to create umami bombs with veggies only? Despite his rough looks (yes, we mean tattoos), LA-based chef Nick Erven is a refined food philosopher, who brings his own sentimentality to the plate “I try and draw upon my own nostalgia whether it be childhood, or something else. Make something that is familiar but new to the guest. I also try and look for the different cultural connections within food. I like to find the common themes in different types of cuisines and try and make something new with them“.
We have met Nick and talked about food trends, childhood tastes, the perfect breakfast and his love-hate relationship with Los Angeles. Enjoy the interview and get to know the man who cooks vegan but loves his meat…
Making plant-based food exciting, tasty and highly addictive is reason enough…
WTL: Which three words sum up who NICK ERVEN is?
NE: Three words that describe me would be would be quiet, bearded, bald by choice.
WTL: And how would you describe ERVEN to someone who has never been there?
NE: Erven is restaurant Santa Monica, California. We cook only vegetables, no animal product at all.
WTL: Why did you choose to open a restaurant in Santa Monica?
NE: We chose to open in Santa Monica because it is close to our other restaurant Mare (same block) plus its also really close to my house…
WTL: What is your signature dish?
NE: I would say our signature dish here is the black garlic-chickpea fritter with yuzu whip, shiso and Aleppo pepper. I think it is a surprising first bite for most people. It comes out looking like three charcoal cubes. Kind of unassuming but, when you bite it it is just a huge umami bomb. It’s a fun way to start the meal.
WTL: Where did you eat a dish that has impressed you to the core and what was it?
NE: The carrot jerky at Alelier Crenn in San Francisco. Blew my mind. Best bite ever.
WTL: From where do you get your inspiration for food innovations?
NE: I try and draw upon my own nostalgia whether it be childhood, or something else. Make something that is familiar but new to the guest. I also try and look for the different cultural connections within food. I like to find the common themes in different types of cuisines and try and make something new with them.
WTL: You are not a vegan but have a restaurant that is entirely plant-based. Do you think it is the next big trend to go completely animal-free?
NE: I think that there is going to be a more cultural shift towards people wanting to eat more vegetables and such. I don’t think that completely animal free will be the next trend, but I do think that there is already a shift towards less animal proteins and more vegetables.
WTL: What does your childhood taste like?
NE: Kraft Mac and Cheese.
WTL: What are the milestones in your life that have inspired you to become a chef?
NE: Dropping out of college, moving to LA, failing at music.
WTL: So, there was someting else you wanted to do before you started cooking?
NE: Yes, I wanted to be a musician before being a chef. I think the kitchen is a pretty good stand in for a stage.
WTL: What was the best advice someone ever gave you?
NE: Seth Greenberg, “Show up to work. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be lazy.”
WTL: And what advice would you give to young chefs, who want to follow in your footsteps?
NE: Show up to work. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be lazy…
WTL: Which chefs have inspired you on your journey?
NE: Most of them have been chefs I’ve worked for, Seth Greenberg, Amy Pressman, Michael Bryant, Rory Sandoval.
WTL: How does your perfect breakfast look like?
NE: Breakfast burrito with bacon, and cheddar, hash browns stuffed inside. Tapatio on the side.
WTL: In a dream world, whom would you want to cook for, and what would you cook?
NE: I would love to cook for Seth Greenberg. He is my mentor, and I have never had a chance to cook for him.
WTL: What is the dumbest thing you have ever done in the kitchen?
NE: At my first job, I cut the tip of my thumb off using a mandoline. Then an hour later, I cut my other thumb. The chef said that this “was probably not the right career for me.”
WTL: What are the most challenging ingredients to work with?
NE: For me cooking at a plant-based restaurant, it’s all pretty challenging. No meat, no fish, no dairy. It’s a pretty strict box.
WTL: How does Los Angeles influence your cooking?
NE: LA is super influential in my food. I think about LA as a melting pot. I also think about food that way.
WTL: What do you love and what do you hate about LA?
NE: Things I love: weather, culture, the vast variety of food, the clippers, and the dodgers. Things I hate: expensive rent, traffic, the lack of outdoor drinking places on the Westside.
WTL: How important is social media for you?
NE: Social media is super important. I’m not good at it, getting better.
WTL: What is your opinion on today’s cooking shows?
NE: Not a fan of cooking shows. Bring back “great chefs of the world” on PBS!
WTL: What do you like to do when you are not working?
NE: I hang out with my kid. She is the dopest!
WTL: What is your favorite band and what music do you listen to?
NE: I listen to a bunch of stuff. Form hip hop to punk to country.
WTL: Where do you get your tattoos?
NE: I usually get tattooed at my house by a guy from Argentina, and he comes and visits once a year.
WTL: What is your most important one?
NE: My most important tattoo is probably the state bird of Wyoming on my arm. Grew up there and think about it a lot.
WTL: Any “unwanted” tattoos?
NE: Probably the mustache that I have tattooed on my fingers. Stupid.
WTL: What was the last book you read?
NE: I just read my daughter a book called “penguin and pinecone” it’s about a penguin who befriends a pinecone.
WTL: Which movie would you watch again and why?
NE: I could watch “The Lord of the Rings” movies over and over.
WTL: What is your dream destination you love to travel to?
NE: I wanna go eat Jamon in Spain.
Picture Credit: Wonho Frank Lee and Erven