I had by chance gotten a delicious slice of pizza at this well known diner in Berkeley for lunch one day (on a lunch break before I got fired from a job that I thought would propel me into a career in professional photography, it didn’t.) The spot: Bette’s Oceanview Diner. A place I would later learn was one of the SF Bay Area’s most iconic restaurants with a very happily married couple at the helm. So, I was excited to spot a Craigslist ad for a barista position at Bette’s. Since I had several years of barista experience under my belt already, I applied and of course got the job.
Bette’s has two businesses under one roof: a classic, art deco, 50's style diner and a european deli with sandwiches, coffee and baked goods all made in house of course. I worked as a barista in the deli for the better part of a year, and Hae was a server in the diner. There were windows in between the diner and the deli, and as I watched Hae running from one end of the diner to the other I thought, “that’s the kind of woman I hope to marry one day.”
Bette’s was just the right place for that - six months later Hae and I became one of over 10 couples who worked at Bette’s, met the love of their life and (eventually) got married. We think it was Bette and Manfred’s dedication to each other in life and in business that created this magical diner full of eggs, bacon, souffle pancakes and true love. We went on to work at a handful of restaurants and cafes around the Bay Area, carving out a little space for ourselves in Oakland. Hae is one of the most interesting people I've ever known, and watching her work among some of the greatest restaurateurs in the very competitive Northern California dining machine was, to say the least, wildly inspiring.
We did a lot of things together. We started a big gay monthly dance party with friends that lasted for over 10 years. In fact, Iylla did the original design and branding for the party. We did years of pop-ups and events with all my gluten-free deep fried creations. Then we opened a divey diner in North Oakland we (unfortunately) called the Grease Box. Two months in, gay marriage suddenly became legal nationwide! It took us another two years to actually tie the knot and our 7th anniversary is this year. One of our best sellers at Grease Box was the fried chicken sandwich. It was paprika and New Mexico chili marinated chicken tossed in chickpea flour and millet, fried in rich rice bran oil atop our sourdough bun with house made mayo, bright pink pickled onions, hot sauce and little gems from a local farm.
We ran the cafe for a few years until our lease ran out. We needed a change of scenery, so we closed up shop and moved to Los Angeles. Although I made literally everything from scratch at Grease Box, the real star of the show was the sourdough I developed. So, when we landed in Hollywood, we decided to focus on bread.
The Los Angeles food scene is very different from what we were used to in Oakland. One thing that stood out to us is all the fusion food. Almost a dirty word in the bay, Fusion cuisine is something Los Angeles fully embraces for very good reason. The city is so deeply multicultural that not making some type of fusion is nearly impossible. I also realized something more deeply personal about fusion cuisine: it's what multi-racial couples cook at home. Hae taught me many family recipes that morphed into my own version, using ingredients we have on hand and cooking seasonally. Kimchi makes it onto many giant salads or onto sandwiches instead of pickles. A latke recipe gets a twist with sweet potato, onion sprouts and sesame. And my fried chicken sandwich from our Grease Box days gets a vegan upgrade . . . here’s the recipe:
Fried Kimchi Sandwich
So, the vegan swap here is kimchi. Not all kimchi is vegan! But, if you check the label, you may be able to find some. You can usually find kimchi at any grocery with an ‘asian foods’ section. For those of you that are unfamiliar with kimchi, it's just like sauerkraut but spicy. Napa cabbage gets sliced into ribbons, tossed in a mixture of garlic, ginger and korean red chilis and then it ferments. It's a staple of Korean Cuisine and is used in so many different ways that it appears in nearly every dish, either in it or served on the side. You will also need to get your hands on some chickpea or garbanzo bean flour (same thing btw). If you can't find chickpea flour, a can of chickpeas will also work. To fry the patty, I use an ice cream scoop, but you can also use a big spoon . . .
To make the sandwich, I’d recommend using toum instead of mayo and you can use a bagel as a bun! If you’ve got a loaf, just make a really thick slice and then cut it in half to use for the bun; that's what I always end up doing!
- 1 cup Kimchi
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1 ½ cups water
- Oil to fry in (I used coconut oil)
- Salt to taste
- Toss the chickpea flour in a blender with the water and salt. Blend until smooth. OR: blend a can of chickpeas into a paste.
- Heat your oil on medium/low until it shimmers
- In a bowl, mix the kimchi with the chickpea batter. The mixture should be thick.
- Once the oil is hot, scoop about ¾ cup of the batter into the oil and fry it for 3-5 minutes then flip it and fry until golden brown. This is your fried chicken patty!
Classic Grease Box Sandwich
- Sourdough bagel or thick sliced bread
- Toum or vegan mayo
- Onion (pickled onion recipe coming soon)
- Kimchi Patty
To make your sandwich: toast the bread and start with a generous portion of toum or mayo on the bottom slice of bread. Then, stick the lettuce to the toum or mayo, nestle your onions in the lettuce and set the patty on top of the onions. Top your sandwich with the other slice and enjoy a little Grease Box sandwich just like we used to make (minus the chicken of course).