Why vegan gumbo works in Keith Corbin’s ‘California Soul’

Keith Corbin wasn’t looking for a career as a chef when he went to work for Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson at their Watts neighborhood restaurant, Locol.

“I just got home from prison. I was fired from my other job. It’s about paying the bills,” he said as he prepared to make a dish inside the Times Test Kitchen from Alta Adams, the popular LA restaurant he opened in 2018 with Patterson.

At Locol, however, he went from chef to kitchen manager to Bay Area chef, and began to see new possibilities.

“I had ideas about what the food I grew up eating would be like if I had access to the resources I am seeing in other areas. Like, what would my food label be like if we had Whole Foods or a farmers market? I started fantasizing about the foods I grew up with made with fresher ingredients. I presented it to Daniel, and Alta was the one who gave birth to it.”

With Patterson as advisor, board and business partner, plus a dedicated team of chefs and waiters – including former sous chef and Locol alum Gwendolyn Etta, now a culinary chef in Texas – Corbin built Alta Adams into a nationally known destination restaurant and community hub.

Vegetarian gombo by chef Keith Corbin, served in two wooden bowls.

Chef Keith Corbin’s Vegetarian Gombo, Made at LA Times Test Kitchen.

(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

But don’t think that Corbin’s is a simple star chef redemption story. As he details in his new memoir, “California Soul” (and will discuss August 23 for the LA Times Book Club), his drug habit has plagued him even as he has been arrested. Starting a career as a chef and restaurant owner.

For all his slip-ups, however, Corbin – with a new baby and a beautiful wife he met in classic rom-com style when she came to eat at Alta – has been a hit. rise as a leader and mentor. Each week, young people from the neighborhood are invited to Alta to learn about the possibilities of the culinary profession by witnessing how an upscale kitchen works. And at the adjoining Adams Liquor Store, they could see a Black woman, Jaela Salala, in charge of an operation run by the late Ruben Morancy, a certified winemaker and former home wine director Co in San Francisco is now closed by Patterson, co-founder, with the intention of featuring BIPOC and LGBTQ winemakers.

“Coming from Watts, the West Adams community that Alta lives in is very similar,” says Corbin. “It is definitely an underserved community. We want to make sure we connect with people who have been there [with] the choice of food and also the price point. “

Not to mention the restaurant staff. “We are really intentional about how we hire and who we hire,” says Corbin. “It’s all about giving opportunities and opportunities. Because without that, I wouldn’t be here. Not only was I given the opportunity, but I was supported in it. Because I’m not ready. I don’t know how to use a knife. I don’t know what these ingredients are. I may have messed up the boiling water. I’ve wanted to quit many times, and you know, Daniel and the team won’t let me quit. They just keep encouraging and encouraging. I come from a background where I am not disciplined for this. But I’m here. “

Chef Keith Corbin holds a piece of fried tofu in front of him with tongs.

Chef Keith Corbin n the LA Times Test Kitchen.

(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

For all the support Corbin received – at one point he said, “I’m just a passenger on this ride” – it was evident when he recreated Alta’s vegan collection in the Times. Test Kitchen that he has a solid sense of how to layer flavors and textures and combine the West African traditions of his slave ancestors with seasonal sensitivity, driven from local vegetables. method to define what he calls “California soul” cooking.

LOS ANGELES, CA - October 2, 2018: Chef Keith Corbin, left, and Daniel Patterson

Chefs Keith Corbin, left, and Daniel Patterson in 2018. Together they opened the Alta Adams restaurant in West Adams.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“We’re in California, aren’t we? You must be a vegetarian. The vegetables are part of the beautiful bounty that California has. That’s the whole point of what we do at Alta – California soul food, isn’t it? We’ve taken a long-standing culinary background and tweaked it. It makes a lot of sense because when I think back to my slave ancestors, before being brought here, they cooked what they grew, they cooked what was around them, they cooked what they caught. , they cook what is in season. So we focused on what California produces while tracking the diaspora from West Africa through the Caribbean, through the South. “

This is why Corbin sees no contradiction in serving his acclaimed fried chicken or oxtail and rice alongside a vegan veggie or smoked tofu sandwich with a spicy dipping sauce and coleslaw.

That gombo – spelled close to the West African root word for “ok” – uses red miso paste instead of the traditional roux and adds a layer of stir-fried or grilled or grilled vegetables on top of the vegetable stew, plus a garnish of radish sprouts or bean sprouts, depending on the season, to create a new type of dish that is both local in flavor and rooted in tradition.

“All I do is stay ahead of a new path to something familiar,” Corbin says. “I remember how everything tasted. I remember what my grandmother used to cook. So I just went my own way to get there using different materials and techniques, but trying to stay as authentic as possible. ”

Alta Adams in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Alta Adams in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.

(Silvia Razgova / For the Times)

Get the formula:

Time75 minutes, plus 2 hours if doing stocks

yieldsServed from 12 to 15

Book Club: If You Go

What: Keith Corbin joined the LA Times Book Club to discuss “California Soul: An American Epic of Cooking and Survival” with Times Food Editor Daniel Hernandez.

When: 7 p.m PT August 23. Doors open at 6pm

Where: ASU California Center, 1111 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. Live and virtual tickets are available on Eventbrite.

More information: Sign up for the LA Times Book Club newsletter, latimes.com/bookclub

https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-08-19/chef-keith-corbin-california-soul-black-cuisine-memoir-vegan-gumbo Why vegan gumbo works in Keith Corbin’s ‘California Soul’

Russell Falcon

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