Courtesy of Charlie Hong Kong
Charlie Hong Kong owner Carolyn Rudolph eats at her own restaurant every day. As a food activist for healthier eating habits, why wouldn’t she? “Every time a person buys a product from an organic farmer, they become an agent of change by giving him their vote,” she says.
A dedicated kitchen staff chops 500 lbs. of locally grown veggies a day. Most come from Lakeside Organics in Watsonville, who consistently supplies the quantities needed. Mint, cilantro and lettuce come from Route 1, and a local distributor is used for organic products not found elsewhere.
Carolyn picking Swiss chard right from the farm
I hadn’t visited CHK for awhile, so I went online to view the menu and found that it is almost completely gluten free. They use a specially made pot for gluten noodles and customers may also request rice noodles or rice. The soy sauce has no detectable gluten; theirs measures 10ppm and the FDA defines gluten free as less than 20ppm.
Eyeing the Salmon Rice Bowl ($7.55), I stopped by with a gift certificate that had been begging to be used and took home two orders. My dinner guest and I were absolutely delighted with the outstanding flavors in the dish, which is the restaurant’s second most popular topping alongside Green Curry Chicken. CHK purchases the Pacific Chinook King salmon from Creative Salmon Co, North America’s only major producer of naturally raised indigenous salmon, using over 200 pounds a week.
On her online blog, Rudolph tells the story of how she and husband Rudy chose to use this supplier. “The decline in wild salmon, due to damming, development and other environmental factors has made it become a scarce commodity. Anyone who has shopped for wild salmon has witnessed the high cost, which can be from $17-$19,” she writes.
“Stagnaro Brother’s Seafood on our Santa Cruz wharf has been the longtime supplier of our salmon, and with the rising price, they came to us with a sustainably farmed salmon that impressed them. My knee jerk reaction … farmed!? Because of my respect for Stagnaro’s, I listened. They assured us that not all farmed fish is the same.”
After calling Creative Salmon, she was impressed with the integrity and commitment shown. “The person I spoke with had the same passion about his salmon as the organic farmers I talk with in Santa Cruz. Aquaculture, means growing animals or plants in the water, while agriculture means growing them on land. I’m delighted to report that I discovered that they’re fed an organic, GMO-free diet, as close to their natural diet as possible and are in the process of becoming the first certified organic salmon farm.”
Next, they visited Tofino, BC to check on Creative Salmon first hand. After 800 miles of driving, she reports that Tofino is in a UNESCO declared biosphere, demanding that waters are protected and all businesses carefully monitored. The company is run by a marine biologist and the fish are carefully monitored by underwater cameras and farmers who live in floating houses. Another plus is that the quality and price remains consistent, something that is important for all restaurants.
Salmon on Chaing Mai Noodles
Interesting facts about CHK restaurant:
Uses only heart healthy rice bran oil
Stopped carrying sugary sodas – offer house-made lime or ginger-lemonade blends
Keeps the menu seasonal for lower pricing -people wait all year for butternut squash soup season.
Bakes bread daily
Dog friendly – they hope to have a dog menu in the future
Won’t consider a franchise so as to be able to control sources and all aspects of operation
Their eclectic clientele: from the French tourists who read about them in a French tour guide, to bikers, contractors whose trucks are too big for the parking lot, firemen, students, seniors and families.
Owners Carolyn and Rudy are perfect partners – she leads the concept; he runs the business end. Carolyn loves yoga, writes poetry and owns boxes of personal journals.
Sandwiches with fresh baked bread daily
Food Day Movement
Carolyn single handedly started the Santa Cruz Food Day celebration, part of a nationwide movement for healthy, affordable, sustainably produced food and the grassroots campaign for better food policies. She worked with the Santa Cruz Community Farmer's Market and Mayor Hilary Bryant, who read a proclamation declaring the week from Oct 16 (International Food Day) to Oct 24 (Food Day) as Farmer Appreciation Week in Santa Cruz.
Though the Rudolphs live by this model all year long, no doubt Carolyn is already planning the celebration for 2014. “Food Day
is a nationwide celebration and a movement that builds all year,” she says.
USA Today claims that about 67% of Americans say a vegetarian meal can be just as satisfying as a non-veggie version. I agree for the most part, but when it comes to Charlie Hong Kong, I’m going to have to add the salmon.