CHATTING WITH LUC 01.02.2024
a conversation with the mind behind Spiritual Objects, and our most recent collaborator.
SQIRL: What is your favorite fruit?
LUC: I am agnostic aha, my favorite fruit is like the best of what's in season. So right now, pears are really good, so I'm eating a lot of pears. Doesn't matter which fruit, you can have the worstor best version of it. It's funny having a kid, cause he's super into blackberries, but then as soon as he tastes one that's bad, then he thinks all blackberries suck. And I have to tell him to just try it again.
SQIRL: I've run into you at the farmer's market before, are you a regular? Do you have a favorite stand/farm?
LUC: My family and I go every weekend. The weeks that we don't go, it really fucks up our whole week. It creates so many gaps we have to fill in. Ken's, Finley, and Weiser are some our favorites. The farmers market might be the best part of living in LA.
SQIRL: How did you come to collaborate with Sqirl?
LUC: When I was living in Portland, coffee was how I paid for life during college. I worked at Stumptown, and they were considering opening up a cafe in LA. I took a trip to L.A. and while I was here I found myself at G&B Coffee, which at the time was a pop up at Sqirl. And this was probably right when Sqirl started, around 2012, and I was just blown away. I think I had the sorrel rice bowl, and I was like, Oh, this is unlike anything I've ever had.
Later down the road I met Scott, who created the Sqirl visual world. And I was inspired by the energy and wanted to do something with Sqirl for years. So this is kind of the full circle moment almost ten years later. I love that what I ended up working on is actually being used in the cafe, it's not just an object or a piece of merch. That's what I love about design in general is that it's this thing that you live with, you use, it's functional.
SQIRL: How have you found your practice intersecting with food/restaruants?
LUC: I think in the same way that I explore experiential design or experiential art. I’ve been inspired by what lives alongside food, in the way that I’m inspired by the chairs next to a painting in a gallery show.
The first time I really experienced an appreciation for this was wandering into a hardware store in Italy a while back, and finding all these dead stock Alessi pieces. I had maybe loosely considered that kind of design, but touching it and seeing it in person, and so casually in a hardware store because people are actually going to buy these beautiful things and use them to make espresso or grind pepper, it blew me away.
I would love to design a restaurant or a cafe or a bar. That's the next step for me.
SQIRL: What have been some key inspirations that informed your practice and the way you design?
LUC: I've definitely been influenced by the design around me in the cities I’ve lived in. Whether it's Eames and his multidisciplinary practice here in LA or just living in Copenhagen where I saw design as such a big part of everyday life. You go to get your blood drawn, and it's on an old beat up Aalto table.
Mary Heilmann is one of my favorite painters of all time. She made these brightly colored chairs on wheels that were a part of her exhibitions. You could sit in them and wheel around while you looked from painting to painting. I love when artists use design to extend the approachability and humanity of their practices.
SQIRL: Do you have any Los Angeles Dining recommendations?
LUC: LA is a beast. It's huge. I don’t know if this qualifies as a food recommendation, but when I first moved to LA, I discovered Jonathan Gold and watched City of Gold. I was super moved by the documentary and it unlocked an immediate love for LA’s food scene. I think anybody who wants to understand LA should watch that documentary.
SQIRL: If you were going to eat something out of the bowl that we made, what would you eat out of it?
LUC: It's kind of a perfect cereal bowl. Or oatmeal, I eat oatmeal almost every day! It would be perfect for oatmeal with some fresh fruit on top.
LOOKING BOTH WAYS 01.02.2024
What happened in 2023 - the cliff notes version?
- Do you like our new website? That was a fun project!
- After a decade, our brioche for our famed ricotta toast (and French toast) is now made in house.
- We also make the best Country Bread in Los Angeles rich with Red Fife flour from Tehachapi (Find this Wed-Sat @sqirlaway)
- The pastry team continues to make some of if not the best laminated pastries and custom cakes in the city.
- After a decade, Sqirl finally has a Beer & Wine License (LA County doesn’t make it easy)
- Sqirl Jam is in more retailers in the US than ever before - Thank you.
- At our preservation facility, we are co-packing jams for our farmer friends. We love you!
- We sponsor an adult women’s basketball team called The Spice Sqirl’s and they won LA City Dept of Parks and Recreation C+ League champions (love it)
- LA had a tough year due to the writers strike. Love to all the restauranteurs and chefs who wore their hearts on their sleeves in 2023.
- Our Water Kefir program is Alive!
- 2023 Collaborations included: Golden Saddlery, Zab’s, Fritz (Taste of Seoul), Queens, Salt & Stone, Great Jones, Biite Club, Hapa Honey, Sunshine Juice (JPN), Courage Bagels, Le Natural, Knotted
What’s happening in 2024 - that we know
- We’re Opening DINNER (April?)
- A new delivery concept from us called Paaals!
- Jam Organic Certification
- A lot of exciting collaborations we’re looking forward to sharing in 2024.
Now if you’re interested to know more…read on!
IN JAM LAND
In 2023, we found ourselves in more retailers around the United States than ever before. While this stockist needs a little updating, if you are looking to pick up Sqirl locally, and find one on this list, you’ll bypass the shipping and support your local retailer. If there are local retailers that you think would be a great fit for Sqirl please email us at email@example.com and I’ll send them a little note! All to say, a thank you to all the small businesses supporting a fellow small business in supporting farmer direct sourcing, heritage fruits that need our support more than ever, and the passion for the art of preservation.
There is only so much jam we can make in a year - partially because we continue to make Sqirl jam in traditional copper jam pans - which means that each batch yields anywhere from 26-30 jars, nothing less nothing more. All made by hand, jarred by hand, labeled by hand. We are also at the mercy of the season. The famed Masamoto had a challenging apricot year and while in 2022 we made 1200 jars of their Golden Sweet Apricot Jam , this year we made zero.
Our Blenheim farmer, Mike Cirone, had a small crop year as well. In 2022, we were able to make enough Blenheim Apricot jam to last us 11 months. We’re already sold out of 2023’s crop - lasting just 4 months. Yet other crops found themselves to be in excess - Greengage Plums from Andy’s, Olallieberries from Two Peas and Murrays, as well as the epitaph to a peach - The Suncrest. We also found ourselves working with new fruits this year. Tenerilli, who we’ve worked with for over a decade at the restaurant, had a huge crop of Robada Apricots this year that were so utterly rich in apricot caramel-like qualities, that we were able to marry them with their noyaux as well as blend them with Two Peas Olallieberries for two tasty moments of summer. Wong Farms - out by the Salton Sea - used to be our source for Shady Lady Tomatoes that made up our Tomato Jam. They have since stopped growing tomatoes (we switched to Early Girl Tomatoes - and yet we are too already out of this jam this year due to smaller production) and have started growing the only Mangos available in Southern California. And WOW are they incredible! We bought almost all their Valencia Pride Mango crop and married it with the only organic Gochugaru grown in the US. A little kick like sucking on a mango chili candy.
2023 was also a year full of preservation collaborations. With extraordinary peaches from Masumoto at our fingertips, we used their Gold Dust peaches in a long time coming collaboration with Zab’s. We knew it would go well yet we didn’t realize how great it would turn out to be. We also made a Fay Elberta Peach w/ Fritz Coffee jam for our collaboration with Fritz in Seoul, Korea. This preserve, which we only have 12 jars left of for the year, found its way stuffed into our brioche donuts and they were a delight! Two new creamed honeys with our friends at Hapa Honey also made an appearance — first we dehydrated our lacto-fermented Yuzu and Meyers which Laurie then spun into the local wildflower honey for a probiotic creamed honey perfect for toast, yogurt, tea, dressing, or glaze. It’s a product that I (Jessica) am the most excited about.
What will you see from us in 2024? Well, firstly our organic certification. We started the organic certification process in September of 2022…yes September of 2022. The certification involves quite a bit of paperwork and paper trails as well as the inspection of our FDA regulated preservation facility. We’ve gone through all these hoops and hopefully soon you’ll start seeing the USDA certification on some of our jams. While I know this step isn’t completely necessary, we do get asked by folks on occasion, and it’s been an arduous yet rewarding process of developing systems.
You’ll also see a number of new jam and ferment collaborations. While 2023 gave us a taste of what we can do when we collaborate with likeminded folks within and out of the food space, 2024 looks to be a continued effort to come together over something extraordinarily delicious.
IN THE SQIRL VERSE
This has been one of the most challenging years for restaurants in Los Angeles. The list of restaurant closures in 2023 seemed to hurt a bit more - with thoughtful industry restaurants like Konbi, Needle, Bar Moruno, and Taco Maria all deciding it was time to bid adieu. The actor’s strike being the most crippling shockwave to Los Angeles restaurants (and businesses) since the pandemic, 6B lost wages and business impacts were felt across Los Angeles as well as other production-heavy states. For restaurants - we are the place that writers rooms order lunch from, or there to provide culinary delights on set, we are the caterer to a large event, or the location of a business meeting. All greatly diminished. There are have been many calls with other chefs and restauranteurs just to connect on a human level - ‘Is this the new normal?’ We’ve been shoulders to each other this year in a way that was beautiful and supportive. Sharing saving tips, vendors, and even team members in a pinch. And while there is a new sense of hope with the actor’s strike officially over, alongside the vision of what a new year can bring, I’m hopeful for this support system to be everlasting.
This time in someway allowed us as a team to stay resolute with our values. Sqirl is a vibrant, creative culinary outlet on the corner of Virgil and Marathon in the heart of Virgil Village Los Angeles. We continue to explore what is crave-able everyday food and how technique, perspective and seasonality can be even more delicious in 2024.
& THE TEAM
On the savory side, while some dishes were new in 2023 (the list is long) others received a complete overhaul. And we’re of the mindset that we’re always willing to evolve, grow and be better.
Some overhauls include - the breakfast sandwich which was updated to this insanely decadent thing - only made perfect by Coty's (Pastry Chef) English Muffin recipe and Sandra’s (CDC) tamago-like egg and Mimolette cheese sauce that gives Velvetta a run. Sandra also played around with the French Toast - soaking it in custard first for 24 hours and then continued upward until 42.5 hours was the magic number. The result, a French toast akin to bread pudding - which is then brûléed and served with whipped marscapone and poached fruit. As my friend said on the last day of 2023, usually you need all the maple syrup and then some with a French toast…this one you can skip it! The latke also found its permanent place on the menu and we get folks asking how did we make it that shape, that crispy, that perfect? The answer…lots of steps.
Our Sous, Kieran, added a new chop on the menu and you’ll find him tinkering with specials for AM as well as dishes for our soon to come dinner service. Spiraled green beans, Inside Out Borsht with Nettle Butter Country, Caramelized Goat Cheese w/ Strawberry Jam, Caesar with Croixtons...
Jacob joined our team in 2023 - a bread baker with years of Michelin experience and a mindset seeking the same farmer relationships and neurotic tinkering to create a product of quality better than ever imaginable. You’ll find that we make so SO so many things at the restaurant. From the Yogurt, to Jams, to Ricotta, to the Sausage and Bacon, to the Crispy Rice, Pastries…We make it all. And one of the very few things that we have never made is our bread. We sell near 500 Ricotta Toasts a week and we don’t make the brioche. It’s always something we wanted to bring in house yet always in due time. And while transparently, while we don’t have the perfect set up- what I wouldn’t do for a bread mixer, a slicer, and deck ovens…yet here we are making brioche in house with Cairspring Mills and Tehachapi flours. It’s a beautiful quality product and while my heart is full, there’s even more joy as he’s making Country bread as well- delicate inside with a rustic outside crust. Our sandwiches got a glow up ◡̈
Jacob’s twin on the bar side is John who after leading the bar at Intelligencia and G&B found his home at Sqirl in 2022. Smart, precise and witty, he’s elevated Sqirl’s bar program from a dialing in perspective and has been a great person to collaborate with not only on coffee drinks yet beyond. On the coffee side, he’s dialed in a PSL (pumpkin spice latte) using kobacha squash juice instead of water for the syrup, an egg-nah latte that is delicious vegan with carrot juice, as well as his 9 month commitment to figuring out a Mocha Valencia - a drink mentioned in Frasier he wished to bring into reality. The Final Form: a mocha sweetened with an oleo saccharum made from the rinds of @schanerfarmstand oranges we juice for the restaurant. Finished with a dusting of nutmeg. However, none of these coffee drinks can hold a candle to our biggest fete - producing water kefir on tap. A probiotic beverage made from the grains of cactus - it’s a caffeine free unlike Kombucha and maintains more of the flavor of its additions. I started working on this project in 2020 by heading up north to learn from Tom and Sonoma Enlivened and finally perfected a system to bring it to life in the restaurant. John took on the production and has been exploring fun flavors such as: “Toast and Jam” (Jacob’s bread toasted and sweetened with our strawberry jam), Gravenstein apple w/ verjus, and as simple as Her’s young ginger and Lemon. I’m excited to work with John and dinner service and see what he dreams up as dinner becomes a reality.
Coty, our pastry chef, has added a deep repertoire of viennoiserie to the pastry program this year. She has lead a pastry team this year making some of the most unique cakes to ever delight guests while also pushing out, with Gabrielle, our best year yet of Thanksgiving Pies. The team also discovered a method for turning the almond meal left over from making almond milk into flour and utilizing the flour for our most ordered item our almond ricotta cake. Sustainability at its core!
Luisito - our prep “Chief” kept the prep moving and Rosa, on his days off, leads with the kindest energy. Rosa’s cousin, Juanito, keeps us entertained while running circles around the restaurant at the same time getting it all done. Lazaro, Jorge and Maria run dish, while Pablo, Pedro, Manny, Luis, Douglas, and Andrew (who also goes to the farmer’s market for us each ensure quality always leaves the kitchen.
At the preservation kitchen, Saul who has been preserving at Sqirl since 2016, has been such an integral part of making sure our core ingredients are always fermented and available. These include the preserved Meyer lemon you find in the Sorrel Rice or the jalapeño lacto-fermented hot sauce on the sorrel, crispy rice or accompanying many of the dishes since October of 2012. Other items - the sauekraut on the Yeuben or the carrot ferment with the hash - or any of the jams you’ve enjoyed over the year. They’re made by Saul and his team. If we were ever out of these key ingredients, we’d close! These probiotic rich ingredients and preserves are the foundation of the restaurant and of the dishes that keep us open and Saul, Nazario, and Roberto are the three that
On the service side, Joseph, leads the floor with some of the kindest energy I’ve had the fortune of working with while Marc is the consummate host sharing their principle that folks should want for nothing. They encourage their FOH team to deliver at both their highest hospitality potential while doing the work that makes them the happiest. The FOH team (Syd, Jack, Everett, Jane, Greta, Trish, John) is really something else right now - warmth and kindness seem to be a core competency that is both rare and beautiful to witness.
Michelle has been the market buyer for Sqirl Away (our market) for a few years now and has a knack for bringing in both global products that are fun and hard to come by (ie: Filet Mignon Lay’s Potato Chips) as well as products from small makers like ourselves who have a passion for an ingredient, technique and/or process in which they make (not copack) a product (IE: Moromi’s Ramp Soy Sauce). We were lucky enough to bring a product to fruition this year thanks to Michelle. An Angeleno with land up in the Adelaide Mountains reached out to Michelle letting her know about organically dry farme olives located on his property. Next thing you know, Sqirl now has a micro-produced, hand-pressed then pressed finishing olive oil.
And who designed the Olive Oil labels? None other than the same person who also designed this newsletter, our new hot coffee cups (disposable and ceramic), the newest jam and hot sauce labels, as well as the merch we don (T-shirt, tote, etc. and our sold our collaborative merch w/ La Natural, Fritz, and Queens). Part of Sqirl’s creative process has always included the design world. Our studio upstairs is where we shoot photography of our food, worked with ViewSource to create our new interactive website, and consider the next iteration of our to-go bag. Alec seems to effortlessly understand the Sqirl language - which is both of Los Angeles and of the World all at the same time.
And there it is. The 35 person team that are the heart and soul of Sqirl. These are mothers, fathers, artists, chefs, service professionals, dishwashers, prep-cooks - all who come to Sqirl to work as a team, leaving it a bit better than they’ve found it.
Final Thoughts From Jess
Is it vulnerable to say that I’m looking forward to 2024? I keep being asked - why dinner? Because I believe dinner will complete the vision that is Sqirl. An all-day cafe in tune with the seasons. A continued exploration of "crave-able everyday food”in a casual bistro-like setting. Casual yet cared for. With table service, a deep wine cellar, an honest savory menu and restrained yet considered desserts. Or maybe “why dinner,” is because I was 30 years old when I started Sqirl. And now…at 42…I see it growing up. Never loosing the beauty of what it is, just getting a little finer and a little wiser with age.
With love from Sqirl and wishing you all a very Happy and Healthy 2024.