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Culver City eateries place emphasis on quality ingredients

It’s definitely a trend in the art district that’s happening. I think we’re definitely a neighborhood leader in that way.
- Natasha Case, co-founder of The Coolhaus Shop
In Culver City's art district on Washington Boulevard, three eateries serve their products at higher costs to deliver a higher quality. With tenures ranging from 18 weeks to eight years, these establishments each abide by the missions and principles of their owners: to feed customers ingredients they believe in grown or raised according to practices they support.
Muddy Leek
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The Coolhaus Shop

Made to Order | Organic greens go into a skillet alongside a beef patty.

Preparation | Chef Flood personally attends to the ingredients for a custom appetizer.

Ready to Serve | The slider appetizer, plated with a side of pickles, is finished.

Muddy Leek
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By Alexa Girkout

“There should be no word ‘organic’,” said Whitney Flood, chef and owner of Muddy Leek in Culver City.

But, there the word is on his menu, next to “sustainable” and “from scratch.”

The restaurant owner knows almost all of his farmers personally and will only buy from them if he supports their practices. Knowing where his products come from and how they’re made is important to him. Yet, the word “organic” throws him off. It’s on his menu because he believes that customers want to see it.

“For me, I just tell people my food is what I believe in,” Flood said. “It’s sustainable. That’s my favorite word. The farmer is giving back to the earth and giving back to the people, and the people are giving back to the farmer. It’s a cycle.”

It’s more than it being a fad and trying to jump onto something. It’s something that I’ve always learned and done and it’s the way we used to do everything. We need to get back to it, I think.

Flood’s passion for sustainable food can be traced to his upbringing in New Hampshire. He grew up on a farm and people there grew their own food. When he started a catering company 15 years ago, he used the produce these people grew, and the practice of using local ingredients followed him to culinary school in Vermont, where they sourced from local farms and slaughterhouses that were within 10 miles.

“It’s more than it being a fad and trying to jump onto something,” Flood said. “It’s something that I’ve always learned and done and it’s the way we used to do everything. We need to get back to it, I think.”

Flood and his wife moved to Los Angeles eight years ago to pursue the dream of having their own restaurant. He said the name “Muddy Leek” just popped into his mind. Leeks aren’t his favorite vegetable, but he does like them. And the name reflects how he prioritizes vegetables on his menu.

“Vegetables is where all my money goes. Meat is up there, but it’s not what we focus on,” Flood said. “I start with the vegetables and go from there.”

That’s also how Flood started scouting Southern California for local ingredients when he arrived from New York eight years ago: He went to the farmers market, and hasn't stopped since. He shops on Saturdays in Santa Monica and makes quick trips to the Culver City market on Tuesdays when the restaurant needs a few items restocked.

“That’s my happy place,” Flood said. “That’s where I like to go and see what’s in season and get inspired and have conversations with people and make friends and bring in new clients.”

Flood met his main farmer at the Palisades farmers market. John Sweredoski of Sweredoski Farms comes from Bell Gardens, just half an hour away.

The two had interacted only fleetingly at first; Sweredoski didn’t even know Flood was a chef. They became properly acquainted through their mutual friends’ raw-vegan wedding four years ago. Flood said he met Sweredoski when the farmer dropped off nearly $700-worth of vegetables as a gift to the couple.

“I started a great friendship with him right there and then,” Flood said.

Flood also knows his root vegetable farmer, the two farms that supply his citrus and the one that grows heirloom tomatoes and “the best broccoli in the market.” He knows where his eggs come from (and picks them up at the farmers market) and has his flour delivered from an organic farm in San Francisco. He knows where his lamb, rabbits and prime beef come from.

The ingredients are all as local as possible, and if they’re not, they’re at least within the state. One of the only exceptions is scallops, which come from a cannery in Porstmouth, N.H. But Flood used to buy scallops from them when he lived on the east coast.

“It’s pretty important to know. That’s why we do what we do,” Flood said. “We try to make an example if we can. We do our best at least.”

Such quality ingredients do come at a price, though. Flood said that most of the time he’s taking a hit by running a 33 to 35 percent food cost. Other restaurants run food costs almost 10 percent lower. But Flood says that in his world, he doesn’t think about price right away; other things are more important.

“My passion is about food and life and love and cooking, but it’s more about the world and knowing that you can make a difference by using certain things.”

Flood took those principles from his childhood and applied them to Muddy Leek, and now he takes them home with him. He has a small garden and grows beets, okra and kale. He said his daughter pretty much eats the produce right out of the ground.

“We like to say we’re sustainable and we make everything from scratch,” Flood said. “We take, but we also give back.”

This map shows where chef Whitney Flood sources the ingredients served in Muddy Leek. The green pins represent vegetable farms, the brown represent ranches and farms that raise animals, the orange pins represent fruit farms and the white and beige pins represent flour, grain and eggs.