Meet the Chef
- Los Angeles, CA
- "Food is the universal language. Food is medicine. Food is memory."
- Japanese cuisine, travel, community, culture, and color.
Jasmine Shimoda grew up in Santa Barbara where she was raised on a macrobiotic diet—think whole grains, vegetables, beans, and soups—that could be a little bland, but nourishing. So, it’s no wonder that her cooking today packs an incredible amount of flavor and texture in every bite. Jasmine (with Sharky McGee) is the co-founder of Jewel, a plant-based restaurant and cafe in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
Jasmine’s culinary education consisted of working in the kitchens at some of the best-known restaurants in New York City—including French institution Chanterelle, Michelin-starred Portuguese hotspot Aldea, bustling Japanese restaurant Morimoto, and studying under Chef Craig Koketsu at Park Avenue. In 2012, she took over at Degustation, helming an ambitious tasting menu enjoyed by just 13 guests per night and racking up 28 Zagat stars. “As a young chef, it was the ultimate dream to express yourself, course after course, and watch people’s reactions right in front of you,” she recalls.
In 2016, Jasmine left New York for Los Angeles and landed as Executive Chef of plant-based concept The Springs in DTLA before co-founding Jewel in early 2018. The restaurant was built to be a community space, welcoming its diverse clientele with open arms, and often serving as a safe space.
“‘Breaking Bread' is an age-old adage for a reason and all the more important during these deeply divisive times to be able to set aside our differences and share a meal with someone. Those are the moments that make us human,” she says.
Jasmine Shimoda's Recipes
Juliet Bennett Rylah talks to Chef Jasmine about the joy in breaking convention, the importance of community, and her next project that will take her back to Santa Barbara after 25 years.
How did your family come to adopt a macrobiotic diet, and what was it like being on that diet when your peers were likely eating much differently?
My dad started attending lectures in the ’70s, which was when the diet gained popularity through [macrobiotic diet founder and author] George Ohsawa. In my family, we ate brown rice and steamed vegetables. Sometimes, we would have salad and miso soup.
The whole lunch bag situation was mortifying. We would have a Trader Joe’s grocery bag and inside would be salad in a recycled yogurt container and an avocado-sprout-tomato sandwich wrapped in foil. It sounds good now, but at the time, it was just so weird compared to what everyone else had.
I always have to explain that I didn’t have this rich, culinary upbringing. It was beyond basic, but very nourishing. I still eat that way when I need some cleansing or grounding. I just use more technique or seasoning than my parents did.
After working in so many restaurants that weren’t plant-based, at what point did you realize you wanted to work in the plant-based space?
I was getting really tired and depressed in New York. It was just a combination of exhaustion and overworking myself, prioritizing everything before my health and my own safety. It was that New York mentality, that hustle of go, go, go. I just subconsciously started eliminating meat from my own diet and moving back toward my vegetarian upbringing. I had left Degustation and took a private chef job just to breathe and get my life back in balance. I started practicing yoga, meditating, taking care of myself, and just thinking about how to integrate everything.
I did that for myself, but then I started thinking about how I could use my very classic training as a chef and apply it to a more plant-based lifestyle and create more exciting vegan options.
Jewel’s flatbread is one of the best vegan pizza options that I’ve had, and I’ve tried several. Could you share some of the things you do to add so much flavor to your dishes?
My background is Japanese, and being raised on such bland, macrobiotic food, my flavor awakening came from my grandpa taking me to get Japanese food. That umami bomb that I got eating my first tempura or chicken teriyaki has always stayed with me. That’s what I’m looking for in dishes. How can I extract the most amount of umami? So at Jewel, we layered a lot of that, whether it’s roasting down tomatoes or shiitake. We use a lot of smoked paprika or actual smoking technique to add depth to plant-based dishes, caramelized onions, lots of acid, lots of bright flavors, deep flavors, and contrasting textures.
What are some of the ways in which you create those contrasting textures?
I always like something creamy, something fresh, something crispy and crunchy. So, to give you a really basic example: An avocado toast with a cashew herb spread that’s really creamy and zesty. Then you have your avocado, and then pickles and quinoa togarashi, which gives it a really nice crunch.
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The pandemic has been hard on a lot of businesses, especially restaurants. How has the last year been for you?
One of the only silver linings of this pandemic is I feel like it’s exposing all the broken parts of the restaurant industry that people were not aware of and took for granted. But now, because it’s such a question of survival, we have to be really vocal about what we need as an industry and what wasn’t working to begin with.
We need more subsidization, more government aid and support, like other industries. It’s not just a question of the food cost for the dish or the ingredients of your latte. It’s the labor. It’s the million things that add up. Because all of us in the restaurant industry are already an army of master problem solvers, the pandemic really brought the best out of us by thrusting us deeper into our collective creativity and therefore closer as a community.