By Sasha Moedt
When Curly Kale Eatery chef Mike Slanzi was given notice by city officials to leave his location at Chilliwack’s The Local Harvest Market, it was a scramble.
“The building wasn’t built to commercial code, so the city came down on them,” Slanzi explained. He’d worked in that space for nearly a year and a half. Curly Kale served all local food – predominantly sourced from that very farm.
“Basically the city gave us a month to move – one month to find a place that was move-in ready,” Slanzi said. There were two potential locations: downtown, or a location near Garrison Crossing. The latter was a good fit – and after a short while preparing, Curly Kale Eatery opened up April of 2016.
“If we hadn’t gotten this in that first month we probably would have, that would have been it,” Slanzi said. But with luck and hard work, the move was successful. Curly Kale eatery still serves all local, with most produce coming from The Local Harvest Market. There was even space below for a fellow vendor also evicted from The Local Harvest Market – Magpie’s Bakery. Any bread on the menu comes from Magpie’s Bakery.
Moving to the new location for Slanzi was “a little bit of a blessing in disguise,” Slanzi commented. “But I miss the farm.”
After being open for approximately five months, things are going well – but you might not have heard about it. “We’ve done no advertising, none whatsoever,” Slanzi said. Beyond the basic social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—Curly Kale Eatery has a modest public profile. “It was a choice,” Slanzi explained. “I’ve been in the industry for a very long time, and I see restaurants open with a bang, and they end up not having enough food to feed the masses on the grand opening.”
Despite the low profile, every week there are new faces, and old regulars that keep coming back, Slanzi said. Clientele are as diverse as the menu. “The people that come here, they like the flavours. They aren’t looking for the greasy spoons anymore. Here they are still getting a full meal, and it’s healthy and natural.”
Some things haven’t changed from The Local Harvest Market days. Curly Kale Eatery still sources every single item on the menu locally.
From eggs, to pork to tomatoes, Slanzi sources local, and creates menu items from scratch. “We are able to sustain ourselves with what’s around us,” he said.
Working with solely local food keeps him on his toes as a chef, Slanzi admits. He has to be flexible with his menu: “if we don’t have tomatoes, [the menu] changes slightly. The burger I’ll change to a slaw instead of tomatoes and lettuce, for example. And it works. I still find the flavour to still go with everything.”
The furthest away Slanzi sources his food is seafood from the coast. “There’s no squid, but [I’ve used] black cod, BC spot prawns humpback shrimp, salmon.”
It might not be as easy as heating a bag of pre-seasoned, pre-cut or pre-portioned food, but Slanzi believe it’s critical for the community to source local, for a plethora of reasons – from environmental, to health.
“As a chef, I feel like this is how it should be done. It’s hard … I do everything from scratch, [I do the] labour, I pay higher prices for the produce and the meats. But [the farmers] take care of the animals; they take care of the produce. It’s not over processed. Prices go up, labour costs go up – but we’re still selling stuff at good prices.”
Slanzi doesn’t bother much with the popular buzz words of the culinary world today – seasonal, handmade, in-house, etc, etc. “I don’t like using the phrase farm-to-table, because that’s another throw around term,” Slanzi explained. He just does it, and the truth is in each ingredient on his menu.
“There [aren’t any] big GF trucks coming in, the big produce trucks coming in from California, or Mexico,” Slanzi said. “If nobody supports the small farmers, then that’s all you get – mass deliveries.”
While local prices might not be as cheap, Slanzi believes with support, that will change. “The more people support them, their prices come down. And I want to support that change.”
Sustainably raised food is important to Curly Kale, Slanzi continued. “A lot of places are doing organic processes, but they aren’t necessarily certified. As long as they’re doing in humanely, and the pigs are running around doing what they want to do. To me, that’s real food. And if we use every piece. I mean, we did pig’s ears!”
While pig’s ears weren’t a smash hit with customers—(“I thought it was great!” Slanzi laughed; “You cook it really slow, boil it really slow for about three hours in water, then you deep fry it, it’s like calamari!”)—Slanzi says sourcing local allows such creativity in the kitchen. “As a chef this brought me back to life,” he said.
“I’ve been bored for years at other restaurants. You get stuff like the humdrum of doing the same stuff, day in day out. Now I’m like – ‘what can I do next?’ This is why I got into the business. It’s a great feeling.”
Mike Slanzi is happy with how far the Curly Kale Eatery has come since leaving The Local Harvest Market. They just recently extended their hours to serving dinner, on Wednesday, Thursday and
Friday evenings, where he says things have been “calm, quaint and so far well received.”
His ultimate goal with Curly Kale Eatery is to pass on the ‘eat local’ philosophy: “I would love to have another restaurant that someone else is running – I want them to be able to do their own thing… and to be able to train people to create menus, and to be a chef, and pass it on.”
“So take the same idea to say, Cranbrook, and do the same thing there. I want people to learn that they can do this, and that other places can do it.”