WHY DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?
Basically, I dropped out of high school and worked in a lot of kitchens. I was eating a lot of fast food. I couldn't sit around and just play Nintendo. I had to do something. I was in a lot of bands, travelling the world, trying a lot of food across the board, and then getting into vegetarian food and then vegan food ... I worked with Stellas and Viceroy, and here I am. [Vegan] food is not a priority with most chefs. I always wanted to reinvent the restaurant world. The American restaurant world does not appeal to me. The customer is always right? If you walk into an art museum and ask to rearrange the background on a particular painting, they won't accommodate you. Why should chefs?
WHAT INGREDIENT CAN YOU NOT LIVE WITHOUT?
Local ingredients because, everyday, right now, I don't know what I'm making. Today's special is only up because I scored a ton of radishes and sweet potatoes, so I came up with a radish aoli with a sweet potato hash. Last night a farmer came by and gave me a bag of mesclun [mix of young salad greens and not a psychedelic]. No matter what, the mission is we don't use any vegetables or produce from outside the state. We do have products that do come from outside the state, very few, but they are not produce ... [Also,] Charlie Hamm. He is my farmer and none of this would be possible without him ... he is the best farmer in Michigan and taught a lot of the big guns of today.
LAST GREAT RESTAURANT YOU ATE AT?
Veggie Galaxy in Boston. It's similar to Bartertown. Locally, India Town. Some of the best Indian food I've had, ever. Their chef Tony is awesome. It's been around about 20 years. Fresh, handmade Indian food.
ARE THERE ANY TRENDS YOU NOTICE?
I think there needs to be more foodie vegans. Most are in it for dietary reasons. Most of the time, vegans are just happy to have options on the menu.
Bartertown Diner & Roc’s Cakes, 6 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids / (616) 233-3219 / bartertowngr.com
Photo: Heather Rowan