Thank chef Alan Jackson’s three daughters, ages 8, 10 and 18, in part for the runaway success of his Lemonade restaurants. What began as a convenient marketplace type eatery on Beverly next to the super deluxe WeHo Bristol Farms is now a veritable local chain. OK, maybe still a chain-ette, but with 12 locations (plus Studio City coming soon), Jackson’s concept has obviously resonated with hungry and health as well as convenience-minded Angelenos. The large selection of ready-to-eat dishes that are both produce and protein-oriented — or you can opt for plain mac n’ cheese in the hot food section — in bright, cheerful, and smartly designed settings by Ilan Dei makes Lemonade pretty darn family-friendly, too. (To wit: Our conversation just the other day at the Larchmont location included the observation, “I really like this restaurant,” followed by an enthusiastic, “Me too!”)
Consider it a very contemporary play on the old cafeteria concept, in the best sense of that tradition. Travelers who fly on Delta via LAX are grateful for its existence. L.A. native Jackson also has an extremely useful cookbook coming out this fall co-authored with JoAnn Cianciulli. And following this Q&A is recipe for delish cucumber mint lemonade, so enjoy the beverage on its own refreshing merits, or spike it with some tequila in honor of National Lemonade Day, August 20th. Also on that date, all of Lemonade’s lemonade proceeds will be donated to the Painted Turtle camp programs.
How did your perspective as a dad shape the concept of Lemonade?
I no longer think of center of the plate cooking where protein was the primary component. My kids have made me think of how every person has different tastes and likes, and we do more a family way of eating. Like last weekend it was, “pass the bowl of quinoa with hazelnuts,” and one loves the fish with oven-roasted tomato and wilted basil. We do a more communal kind of eating.
Do you make them their own dishes?
No! I cook to my own tastes and hope they like it!
But do each of your kids have different tastes, and specific likes and dislikes?
Each kid has a different palate. They all do, everyone [including adults]. A lot of it is age, and lot of it is who they are. That’s genesis of the concept, that is kind of marketplace where people can find that what they like to eat.
Pre Lemonade, as a chef I would go home, and think about what’s for dinner, it was always a struggle. With things to take-out, I couldn’t find a food compared to what I’d cook at home, or was in the fridge or what I’d have at work. I wanted to create an outpost for people to get the type of food I want for my family. As a white tablecloth chef, how many times week can you eat foie gras?
So it’s everyday food. Stuff I wish I had in my fridge that would cost me four times as much to make as it would to get at the counter at Lemonade, and then I don’t have to make it at home. At home I might not use a whole broccoli stem, but I’m going to turn it into a soup at the restaurant.
The food industry is all about minimizing waste anyway, right?
Well, that’s not the only driving force. Time is a big issue, and the effort to cook at home really is difficult. [It’s about] finding a place that as a chef I would want to take home. And we’re certainly doing vegetables in a different way than every day home cooking. I think some of the greatest tings about cooking at home was you don’t have access to all the tools and the larder you might have at a restaurant kitchen. You become very creative at home. You look in your pantry, and say, I have [that thing]. It’s a great place for me to invent, and the kids love to get involved.
We have a fig tree that’s the first part of the season. Our tree gets two pushes, one whole crop now, and one at the end of the summer. Last night I sent my kids out to get figs. I had avocados from my friend Victorian Pierson’s tree and my kids grew butter lettuce from seedlings. So we had had figs, avocados, and homegrown butter lettuce — and they were very much part of that process.
Do your kids cook?
I have one that likes to get involved, and one that likes to eat.
How did the cookbook come about?
It was a natural outgrowth. It’s the kind of book my wife Heidi would dog-ear and have on the kitchen counter. It’s utilitarian. It’s an easy book to cook from. They’re recipes you can do ahead, or you can do last minute. They’re picnic-friendly, and you can add them to a BBQ. You can do all sorts of things. JoAnn [Cianciulli] has worked hard to showcase how recipes intertwine with each other.
Cucumber Mint Lemonade
2 hothouse cucumbers, coarsely chopped (about 2½ cups)
1½ cups coarsely chopped fresh mint
1 cup baker’s (fine) sugar
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (About 10 lemons)
3 cups water
Ice, for serving
Makes 2 Quarts
In a blender, combine the cucumbers, mint, sugar, and lemon juice. You may need to press down the mixture a little, as the blender will be pretty full. Pulse the cucumber mixture a few times then blend on high speed for 1 minute until the cucumbers breakdown and are smooth. The cucumbers are watery, so the mixture won’t be too thick.
Strain the cucumber puree through a fine-mesh sieve and into a pitcher, pressing the solids through with the back of the spoon; you should have about 5 cups. Pour in the water, stirring with a wooden spoon until the cucumber puree fully dissolves and mixes thoroughly with the water. Serve over ice.