Planting seeds of change
For the past six years, Raphael Kendall has worked his way up the ranks in Capitol Garage’s (1500 K Street) kitchen and has recently passed the one-year mark as the restaurant’s executive chef. Although the eatery serves meat and dairy products, the 24-year-old cook has been living the plant-based lifestyle for 10 years, and has been working to make more vegan options available on the menu. He’s also thrown his big, puffy chef’s hat into the ring for the second time as a competitor in the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge, which ends on Wednesday, October 31.
This is the first restaurant in which you’re calling all the shots in the kitchen?
Yeah, I mean, my father opened a cafe in Jamaica, and I helped out for a little bit, and then I was a prep cook at The Melting Pot, and then after that, I’ve just been here [at Capitol Garage] for most of my career.
Are other people in your family herbivores?
I’m married, and my wife is vegetarian, and I’m raising my son vegan. … He’s 2 now.
What are the challenges of raising a child vegan?
It really wasn’t challenging for us. … I studied a lot about nutrition for myself but even more so when we found out we were having a child. … He’s eating really healthy, and he’s in the hundredth percentile for height and weight, pretty muscular, and developing on track and everything.
Why did you want to live off of plants, other than not liking the taste of meat?
It was the way meat tasted, but also the texture, and I guess part of it could be the thought of it—just thinking about it—“You’re eating a rotting piece of flesh,” I sometimes say jokingly.
The most important reason is when I eat dairy and eggs, I get sick. Like, if I eat eggs, I get really bad stomachaches; and with dairy, I get headaches and a runny nose and whatnot. I used to get nosebleeds almost every day when I was younger. They went down after I stopped eating diary. … Then, after being vegan for a while, the healthier I felt.
How do you feel about working with meat at the restaurant on a daily basis?
As a vegan, I don’t believe forcing that on other people. So, if people choose to eat meat, I’m not against it. It’s different having to prepare it for my work, but since I’ve been cooking since I was young and cooking meat, I’m used to it. It doesn’t bother me to a great enough extent to do not do it anymore—especially since I’m getting paid for it (laughs)—but I’m still able to cook things and season them without tasting.
How do you get around that?
I do have people try things, and usually they say it’s fine and I don’t need to add anything, but sometimes they’ll say it’s a little spicy, which is usually my problem.
What’s on the menu this year for the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge?
I plan to change things but mainly keep a seasonal theme. … I have a cucumber salad. … It’s more of a Japanese style, and we peel it so it’s very thin. It’s with other veggies, and it’s in a sweet rice vinegar. I’m trying to make things gluten-free, so there’s a bigger clientele I can reach with some of these items.
And then we’re doing a butternut-squash mole, and I’m cooking that with broccoli and a couple other veggies over brown basmati rice. That’s one I plan to switch … [with] maybe a butternut-squash curry and … maybe a butternut-squash barbecue. …
I have a pumpkin-spice cake with a ginger icing in the layer … topped with an orange-buttercream frosting.
We also offer other vegan options on the menu if people want to try that. And we put a vegan beer on tap, so that’s an option as well. … It’s Amber Ale from Eel River [Brewing Company].
Was there a rise in dining attendance during last year’s challenge?
Oh, yeah. There was a lot last year, and even regulars were trying the vegan options and liking it, even if they were carnivorous or omnivorous or one of those varieties of modulations. It was a great turnout. … It was the first month that I really took over [as chef], so I was really busy making all of the cakes and went through, like, 100 pounds of barley. I was making, like, three or four cakes a day. It was a lot of fun. Lots of hours.
Were you surprised by the interest in vegan fare?
Yeah, I wanted more available when I went out to eat, but I guess I didn’t realize how popular it was becoming and how many who were willing to try it who weren’t already vegan or knew about veganism.