Anaheim’s Poppy & Seed cultivates James Beard nomination
Poppy & Seed is a restaurant invested in cultivating growth. Executive chef and owner Michael Reed and his wife, Kwini Reed, have grown their own garden at their modern greenhouse restaurant in Anaheim. The duo has grown their community through their nonprofit, the UNI Coalition: We’re in This Together. Soon, they will grow their concept with a third location opening at San Pedro’s West Harbor development.
It is no surprise that Reeds’ growth has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. Michael Reed is one of two Orange County chefs to be nominated as a 2023 James Beard Award semifinalist in the Best Chef, California category, the other being Chef Carlos Salgado of the Michelin-starred Taco Maria in Costa Mesa.
“It is great to be recognized by James Beard for all the work we have put into the community,” Reed said.
Kwini Reed said that while their community starts with the hospitality industry, it doesn’t end there.
“We are trying to help push our industry forward and in the right direction, and really centering it around people,” she said. “Not just the people who work for us or with us but also the people that we are serving and the communities that we are serving.”
During the pandemic, the Reeds moved from downtown Los Angeles, home of their flagship restaurant Poppy & Rose, to Orange County, Kwini Reed’s original home.
“We found this beautiful place in the Anaheim Packing District,” said Michael Reed. “It was on the market, and we were a year into the pandemic. We knew we needed patio space.”
The property that would become Poppy & Seed had plenty of outdoor dining space and even room for a garden.
“We really got inspired to cultivate an outdoor space that was locally sourced, organic and true to what I grew up growing up in Ventura County, where there are a lot of farms,” said Reed.
He tapped culinary garden designer Ashley Irene of Heirloom Potager to help build and maintain an edible garden right on the Poppy & Seed property.
“We collab together as far as what the seasonal changes will look like, as far as what we are planting, the rare seeds and heirloom seeds that she can find,” said Michael Reed. “And we use all the stuff we grow on site to finish and garnish our dishes.”
The menu reflects the seasonality of the garden and what the Reeds can source from local farmers markets. As a result, the menu changes roughly six times a year. Travel experiences also influence Reeds’ menu.
“This is really my playground, as a chef,” said Michael Reed. “Here it is really about, what am I learning? What did we just come back from a trip and learn as far as different cultures?”
A trip with his family to Jamaica inspired a jerk duck leg dish, and a visit to Mexico influenced him to experiment with green mole.
The Reeds have also grown their community through their work with the UNI Coalition: We’re in this Together, a community teaching kitchen recently incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit.
“It is basically setting up the transfer of knowledge because knowledge is free,” said Michael Reed.
Reed studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and came up in kitchens like David Myers restaurant, Sona. He said he recognized it wasn’t always easy for young cooks to get a mentor.
“The UNI Coalition is really trying to work with underserved communities and kids, teenagers and young adults that need a second chance,” he said. “We are taking the information that I have learned, that Kwini has learned, and transferring that knowledge to a younger generation … and it doesn’t cost us anything beside time and energy.”
Kwini Reed said finding ways to give back is at the heart of their business.
“That is just something that is very present in our brands, even as we grow,” she said. “We try to cultivate a giving culture.”
The Reeds are planning to use their Poppy & Rose location, which is only open for brunch, as a place to host small groups of students in the evenings, and they hope to get other chefs involved too.
Michael Reed’s nomination comes at a time when the Beard Foundation is putting diversity, equity and inclusion goals into practice. In recent years the foundation has developed different inclusion strategies for each department. While Reed is proud to represent chefs of color, he also hopes to be recognized for more.
“I try to look past the color aspect. I grew up being half black, half white in Ventura County. I am just really here to showcase our restaurants,” said Reed. “Yes, it is great to be a Black chef; there are very few of us. It is great to be acknowledged by a foundation like James Beard. I know they have made a conscious effort to nominate more chefs of color.”
Reed said he hopes to open people’s eyes to the diversity among people of color and help expand diners’ view of chefs.
“More chefs of color are coming to light in this day and age and people are taking note of the different ethnic foods we can cook, other than just soul food,” Michael Reed said. “Especially for someone like us, we don’t really cook soul food. Yes, we have a brunch restaurant, but it is not your normal Southern brunch food you think of. Especially for Seed, the focus is more on the classic French techniques I learned at the CIA, working at Michelin-starred restaurants and eating pasta at Mozza for dinner.”
Later this year, they will grow their restaurant brand by adding a third restaurant in San Pedro.
“The third coming location is San Pedro West Harbor,” said Reed. “Which is going to be a Poppy & Rose that will do breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Reed said he is grateful for the success he and his wife have found.
“We are self-funded and growing the business at a very impressive rate for just the two of us,” he said. “For me, it is about spending the time with my wife and family and having that freedom to be independent but still creative.”
He is also grateful that the growth has come from simply being themselves.
“We are really just staying true to what we do,” he said.
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