A college friend, now a newspaper photographer, recently visited from Boston. When we first met, she smoked several packs of cigarettes a day and thrived on fast food. Today, as mom to a 7-year-old, she’s a role model for organic living, and the family dines strictly on organic vegetarian cuisine.
When we set a lunch date, she chose her favorite restaurant on Los Angeles’ trendy “Restaurant Row”: Real Food Daily, an organic, vegan haven in West Hollywood, where celebrity sightings are de rigueur and the wait staff goes out of its way to ensure customers leave happy and replenished.
RFD, as it’s come to be known, first opened in Santa Monica in 1993. Executive Chef and Founder Ann Gentry, a Tennessee native who moved to New York to pursue an acting career, waited tables and soaked up knowledge at Whole Wheat and Wild Berries, one of Greenwich Village’s premier vegetarian hot spots. She was heavily influenced by cook Roger Leggat, who generously shared kitchen tips and culinary wisdom. Gentry soon began to notice how food and health are interconnected, and when introduced to macrobiotics, she realized she felt better with a diet devoid of sugar and animal products.
Acting roles eventually led Gentry to Los Angeles. As she polished her cooking skills and learned to shop for organic ingredients at local farmer’s markets, she started cooking for the cast and crew on movie sets. It didn’t take long for her dishes to attract a following, and actor/director Danny DeVito hired her as a private chef when making Throw Mama from the Train in the late ’80s.
When the movie wrapped, Gentry launched a home-delivery service, bringing fresh meals to Southern Californians who appreciated her healthy approach to food. Once she had 30 regular clients, it was decision time: show biz or gastronomy. The kitchen prevailed, and the path to Real Food Daily became a reality.
Today, Gentry presides over the two RFDs, ensuring food is cooked from scratch with only the highest-quality organic ingredients. Both restaurants are open seven days a week, serving full lunch and dinner menus. You’ll find fresh juices, starters like nachos (made with Gentry’s famous cashew-based “cheese”), a lovely selection of salads (I love the Yin Yang, with cabbage, romaine, carrots, cucumbers, edamame, cilantro and a peanut dressing), hearty entrees (my college pal can’t resist the “TV Dinner” of tempeh vegetable loaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables), and desserts like tiramisu and coconut cake.
Two years ago, Gentry published The Real Food Daily Cookbook, which features many popular recipes from her restaurants. She carefully explains how to prepare favorites like Turkish Lentil Soup, Southern-Style Skillet Corn Bread, the famous RFD Burger (made with homemade tempeh patties) and Creole Tempeh Gumbo. The aforementioned Yin Yang Salad and Tempeh Meat Loaf are also included, as are desserts like Coconut Cream Pie With Chocolate Sauce and Chocolate Chip Cookies.
More recently, Gentry was named executive chef for Vegetarian Times magazine, and her new television show, Naturally Delicious With Ann Gentry, is scheduled to debut on Veria, a new wellness-focused cable network.
Gentry was kind enough to share one of her recipes with OrganicAuthority readers—a starter I’ve enjoyed at RFD whose recipe does not appear in the cookbook. This Ginger Squash Spread is easy to make and absolutely delicious, so get cooking!
And when you’re in Southern California, be sure to stop by RFD:
Real Food Daily—Santa Monica
514 Santa Monica Blvd.
Open seven days a week: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Real Food Daily—West Hollywood
414 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Open seven days a week:
11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ginger Squash Spread
By Ann Gentry, Real Food Daily, Copyright 2006
1 kabocha squash
1/8 cup fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Cut squash in half. Remove the seeds and skin. Cut into 1/2-inch slices.
Mix minced ginger in water.
Place squash pieces on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Pour ginger water over the squash. Cover with foil.
Bake for one hour or until the squash is very tender.
Put baked squash in a food processor. Add salt and whip until smooth and spreadable.
Refrigerate for about 2 hours until cool.