Chef Lee Gross is a pioneer when it comes to macrobiotics. Consulting Chef at the ever popular M Café in Los Angeles, Gross provides us with a different way of looking at food. At a time when health has become a key issue, this chef looks to innovate the way we see food, and helps us to envision the healthier alternative. After studying at Johnston and Wales, Gross went on work under notable greats such as Daniel Bruce, Phillippe Jeanty, George Germon and Johanne Killeen. It wasn’t too long before Lee was recruited as personal chef to health, fitness and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow. All in all, Gross continues to work towards a sustainable future by creating inventive, wholesome cuisine.
What’s different about your food?
It’s entirely influenced by the principles of macrobiotics, which is a heady philosophy that draws from Traditional Chinese Medicine – the energetic “yin/ yang” paradigm – and is grounded by a social mission of cultivating human spiritual evolution and global peace through proper dietary and lifestyle practices. Beyond that, the food at M Cafe is casual, familiar, and globally inspired, with a wide palate of flavors and cultural influences. You don’t need to know or care a lick about macrobiotics to appreciate the menu.
Are you constantly making changes? How so?
Macrobiotic teachers were espousing the importance of locally sourced, seasonal cooking back in the 1950’s…way before it caught on in the culinary mainstream. So yes, while we have a core menu, we rotate and create new menu items every season.
What’s special about macrobiotic cuisine?
There is so much that is special about macrobiotics and macrobiotic cuisine. But what really drew me in was its culinary heritage, specifically how it has been influenced by Shojin Ryori, the Japanese zen-buddhist temple cuisine.
How do your travels and experiences play into your restaurant?
I try and always stay open to inspiration. I never know where or when it may hit. Travel is great – it always helps to spark new ideas. This is why I love my role with M Cafe, as I get to travel from my home in New York to Los Angeles four or five times a year.
Your go-to recipe when cooking outside the restaurant for family and friends.
No “go-to” recipes…It totally depends on what’s on hand! I love being able to put together something wonderful from just a few odds and ends.
Can you share some menu favorites from M Cafe?
Right now I am partial to a spring salad we are working on that combines black barley with young green garbanzo beans and our creamy tofu “chevre.” We make a few housemade “cheeses” using basic Japanese ingredients such as tofu, miso and agar (seaweed).
What are your favorite cities to travel for food?
Well, as I travel most frequently between New York and Los Angeles I consider myself pretty blessed on the food front. But internationally I have to say Tokyo, London and Barcelona each have had a profound impact on me.
What spots do you go to in each?
When at home in New York I actually don’t get out as much as I should (when I do have a night off my two young daughters prefer I stay home and cook them dinner – and I can’t argue with that!) During my trips to LA I try to eat out as much as I can. I enjoyed a transcendental meal at Animal last time I was out there.
Where do you go for inspiration?
The kitchen (of course!) and farmer’s markets, wooded hiking trails, food ‘zines and my basement. I recently picked up the drums again, and find that playing them opens my creative channels like nothing else can.
Where would you like to travel for inspiration that you haven’t been to yet?
Italy – can’t believe I haven’t been yet. And Israel. And Morocco.