Cooking Ugly Produce With Chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl
No one understands how to elevate simple ingredients while wasting as little as possible quite like a chef. We've been fans of Jessica Koslow and her amazing restaurant Sqirl for a long time, so a few months ago we got in touch to see if we could work together. Since then, she has been using Imperfect produce to make delicious, rotating dishes based on what's available and what's in season.
The results have been nothing short of inspiring. From a lacto-fermented hot sauce with Imperfect peppers used on their famous Sorrel Pesto Bowl to a Cara Cara, hibiscus, and grapefruit jam made with Imperfect citrus, Jessica has consistently made creative, delicious, and beautiful things out of our ugly produce. We sat down with her to learn more about Sqirl, why Imperfect resonates with her, and some top tips for reducing waste in your kitchen! We hope you enjoy.
How is Imperfect a reflection of your values as a chef and restaurant owner?
It's very seamless. At the restaurant, it's very important to us to waste as little as possible. For example, we have dill that's sprinkled over the Sorrel Pesto Bowl, and the stems are used in a powder that goes on our Socca Pancake. So there are all of these little tricks that we use to not waste anything. We preserve lemons, which we ferment and use in the Sorrel Pesto Bowl, and then use their innards to make a dressing. Sqirl started with the idea that we are preserving and squirreling away not only the season but also produce that might've been on its last legs. Just the idea of preservation as the spark and the seed? That is what Imperfect really is.
As a chef, how do you think about the appearance of fruits and vegetables?
Sometimes it can be important actually. If you're slicing a carrot with a mandolin and it's knobby, then it isn't the right carrot for the job. But if you're looking at an Imperfect carrot as something you can shred or juice, then it's perfect for the job. Nothing is a one-size-fits-all. There is a shape and size for all of us, so when I think about produce, I think about how the different shapes and forms often tells us chefs how to use something.
What is one of your go-to tricks to use up leftovers?
One go-to trick is repurposing brown rice. We use leftover brown rice and turn it into crispy rice. That crispy rice that's on the menu at Sqirl is actually our Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl that we cook off. Whatever's leftover at the end of the day, we put on sheet trays and we let it dry out and then we fry it. That adds texture to salads and it can be its own standalone dish. I think that's one of my favorite grain tricks!
Shredding is also a great trick for root vegetables, like radishes and turnips. You just put them in a shredder, in a Cuisinart for example, and you can have a delicious salad with sprouts, chicken, and a sumac dressing. You never have to worry about shredded vegetables being the wrong shape!
Is sustainability important to your customers and diners as well?
It's hard to educate people without sounding like you're trying to tell them to do something. We work by a "trust-me" mentality at Sqirl. Since our menu board is so small, we can't provide that sourcing information, but that's where Imperfect comes in. You leverage the acts of chefs and educate through the work that you're doing. We rely on you to spread that message, as you rely on us to utilize the produce in new ways.
If you're in Los Angeles, be sure to visit Sqirl to experience Jessica's incredible menu. We hope you enjoyed hearing from her and look forward to bringing you more interviews like this one!