The new face of Laughing Seed

Beets me: Fork Mountain Farms frisee, basil vinaigrette, garlic-roasted beets and avocado with local bee pollen and lavender goat cheese from Three Graces Dairy. Photos by Jonathan Welch

Laughing Seed Café has a new chef at the helm. Jason Sellers left his longtime post at the well-established vegetarian restaurant to open his new vegan eatery, Plant, and in his place he’s left some rather large kitchen clogs to fill. Stepping up to the plate is Sandy Krebs, a globe-trotting chef with a passion for world flavors. Is she up to the task? Xpress caught up with Krebs to find out how she felt to inherit a well-oiled machine (lubricated with veggie oil, of course), and how — if at all — she planned to tinker with it.

Xpress:
You've stepped into a well-functioning kitchen, haven't you? What's it been like coming into that?

Krebs: The Laughing Seed has been here for so long and they have such a great reputation. Instead of being in a situation where an employer hired me saying, "Come save our restaurant," it's already a very successful [model]. So, it's been a lot of learning their menus and learning their recipes and seeing how things already operate around here.

Should we expect to see many changes to the Laughing Seed menu soon?

The first time that we're really going to see a lot of my influence in the menu is when we change the menu for the fall/winter season. For specials, I'm already having influence and input, but I'm really excited for the upcoming menu change. Of course, some of the old favorites will stay on the menu, but I'll get to add a few things with my flair as well.

You’re new in town. Why did you choose to move to Asheville?

I decided that I wanted to be somewhere where the farm-to-table movement was important, and where local agriculture and reducing your carbon footprint — all of those things — are something that people really support, really [fashion] their ideals around. [A place where] consumers support it not just with their words, but with their wallets. I've been a lot of places where people talk the talk, but when it comes down to it, they'll choose going to the place that's [cheaper], regardless of where the food comes from.

I think that Asheville is an exciting place because people support such wonderful things here. And Joan and Joe Eckert, the owners of the Laughing Seed, they were doing the farm-to-table movement before it was even called that. They've been supporting local farmers and agriculture and dairies for a long time — it makes me proud to be a part of that.

Where were you before Asheville?

Most recently, I was working in India. Before that, I was in Florida. I've worked in the Caribbean and Austria, New York, Vail, Colo., and Mackinaw Island. I've been a little bit of everywhere before I landed here.

You sound like you've lived a rich life. May I ask how old you are?

I'm 48. You know, one of the really wonderful things about being a chef is that resorts, hotels and restaurants are everywhere. Well, not necessarily everywhere, but often they're found in very beautiful, exciting places to live. I've been really blessed in that I've had a chance to live and work in some wonderful places.

What were you doing in India?

I was working for a company that has high-end, fine-dining restaurants all over India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. I was designing restaurants … writing menus and wine lists and sourcing products, as well as training Indian chefs how to cook Mediterranean-fusion food. It was a really fun job.

So you'll bring your own world influence to the Laughing Seed (which is described as global-fusion vegetarian)?
My background is very international fusion. I'm Sicilian, so I have that strong Mediterranean background and a strong background in Szechwan, Chinese and Thai cooking. I grew up in Southern California, so the Hispanic styles of cooking have a strong influence, too. I think what the Laughing Seed is (and what they want to be) blends perfectly with my passion and style.

What are your plans for the near future?
The fall is such a wonderful season. I love the different root vegetables and the kinds of comfort food that people love to eat this time of year. We're probably going to be doing some homemade gnocchi, raviolis, other pastas — those sorts of Mediterranean-fusion items. I'm thinking pumpkin-pistachio ravioli or beetroot ravioli filled with seasonally appropriate stuff like caramelized onions and pine nuts and mascarpone, that sort of thing.

We'll also change the dessert menu a bit — there will be a chocolate-chestnut torte and a hazelnut-liqueur pumpkin cheesecake.

How does it feel to be stepping into Jason Sellers’ spot with him opening Plant?

Well, I'm filling some big shoes! Jason is a well-loved guy and with him having Plant opening, there's so many people that ask whether I'm afraid people will leave Laughing Seed to go to Plant, and I don't feel that way at all. I think good restaurants encourage other restaurants to be better. I'm really happy that I'm walking into a situation that's so positive and with such a positive history.

I love what I do, and the people I do it for. Chefs, whether they want to admit it or not, there's a little bit of codependency with us — we want people to love us.

Of course, or you wouldn't do what you do. You wouldn't care what you put on the plate; you'd just look at the bottom line.

Right. Food is love.

— Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at food@mountainx.com

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