Chefs fuel a veggie auto trend


WITH Earth Day just a few days away, it’s gratifying to think that eating French fries might be an eco-friendly practice. How so? Well, consider veg-oil power.

Though there’s not enough of it to make a big dent in air quality, the use of recycled vegetable oil in place of gas to power your car is catching on, and restaurants are stepping up to keep supplies in the pipeline.

Until recently, most restaurants typically stored used oil in a large drum well out of customer view (welcome to the less glamorous side of the restaurant world) and then contracted with a company such as Los Angeles-based Baker Commodities Inc. to pick up the oil on a regular basis. The vast majority of this oil goes to producing animal feed, hardly an evil end. But lately a number of restaurateurs see a more noble use for the oil they use to cook fries, chicken, tempura and the like: donating it for use in veg-powered vehicles.


J.J. Needham, chef at Luna Park, the eclectic La Brea Avenue eatery, is among the growing group. Needham, who rides his bike to work most days, considers himself “semi-green.” He has just made the change from paying about $150 a month to have his oil picked up, to having it siphoned for free by locally based Veg Energy Group, an offshoot of Ojai-based Veg Powered Systems. Only pure vegetable oil can be used this way; partially hydrogenated soybean oil in blends doesn’t work in veg-powered vehicles. Other restaurants that recycle their oil with Veg Energy Group include Sake House Miro, also on La Brea; four Malibu spots (China Den, Thai Dishes, Spruzzo’s and Casa Escobar); and Good Karma in Venice, the vegan fast-food place on the boardwalk.

Nook Bistro, the stylish little West L.A. restaurant, is among several restaurants that have signed on to work with Vernon-based GeoGreen Biofuels, which will start collecting oil for biodiesel conversion next month.

“I’m stoked to finally find a company that is doing something great with oil,” says Nook chef James Richardson. “It’s just another way to make less [negative environmental] impact with the restaurant, which is our goal all the way around.”

Father’s Office chef and owner Sang Yoon plans to donate the kitchen’s used vegetable oil for alternative fuel use when he opens his second bar in Culver City, most likely this summer. Shortly thereafter, he also intends to unveil a mobile Father’s Office, the working name of which is the Mofo. The vehicle, currently in the design phase, will house a kitchen and fryer and Yoon’s idea is that the oil used on the truck will be recycled to power the truck.

-- Leslee Komaiko

Small bites

* The just-open Abode, a new Santa Monica restaurant designed by the same folks who did neighboring Tengu, boasts what they’re calling “sustainable contemporary American cuisine” from Chef Dominique Crenn. Crenn, most recently chef at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, has worked in Indonesia and under San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower.

Abode, 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-3463.

* Chef Eric Klein, whose cooking at Maple Drive a few years back earned him favorable reviews, was executive sous chef at Spago in Beverly Hills before that. Now in Las Vegas, where he opened SW Steakhouse in the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and did a stint at Fix in the Bellagio Hotel, he recently came on board as executive chef at Spago Las Vegas. In his few weeks on the job, Klein has already done a menu overhaul. “The restaurant has been there 15 years,” says Klein. “It needs a new energy and a new face.”

Spago Las Vegas, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Suite G-1, Las Vegas, (702) 369-6300.