Meet Chef Andy Zambrano, Who Brings Global Perspectives to Farmfluence
Making salsa with brightly acidic green tomatoes and smoky charred shishito peppers straight from Sunrise Organic Farm instead of using standard supermarket tomatillos and jalapeños amplifies the condiment’s intensity. Dressing rainbow carrot salad with roasted pumpkin seed pesto adds toasty notes that traditional pine nuts can’t match. These are just two creative lessons that chef Andy Zambrano shares with Farmfluence subscribers in recipes he created using seasonal ingredients from our CSA boxes.
Zambrano made curried goat and puffy tacos at Seattle’s Hotel Albatross and assembled Spanish tapas at sister restaurant Ocho. He prepared pasta and parm at Portland’s historic Caro Amico Italian Café. In L.A., he championed Asian fusion at Yang’s Kitchen in Alhambra, crafted morning glory bowls and moros cakes at Kitchen House in Highland Park and worked at dearly departed Lincoln bakery/café in Pasadena. Zambrano has been exposed to a lot in his decade-plus cooking professionally and brings global perspectives to his Farmfluence recipes.
Previously, Zambrano’s executive chefs often relied on distributors to source produce, which was limiting. Working directly with Farmfluence farmers has inspired Zambrano in new ways, and he’s learning a lot in the process. He lights up when describing how “the type of soil used, the amount of sunlight, the amount of water, or when you stop watering a certain vegetable [...] All of those things individually create different characteristics in each vegetable, which I think is pretty cool.”
Zambrano strives for approachability when developing Farmfluence recipes. He receives a list of seasonal produce that’s available in each CSA box and treats it like the TV show “Chopped.” “I just take a look at what I have to work with,” he says. Next: “either something that I know people already enjoy, like salsa, or something people are unfamiliar with; I find an easy way to enjoy that thing. A lot of people don’t eat eggplant. People find eggplant intimidating… if I teach someone the easiest way to cook it, like stir-fry, maybe they’ll start using it more.”
Impact is also important. “I’ve always favored very powerful, punchy dishes,” Zambrano says.” Anything that as soon as you bite into it, there’s a lot of flavor.”
“I’ve always favored very powerful, punchy dishes.”
Zambrano was born in Huntington Park and lived in South Gate, Downey and West Covina. He attended Natural Cookery, a vegan culinary school in Boulder, Colorado, and cooked for two years in the Pacific Northwest, but he’s an Angeleno at heart. Zambrano currently lives in Monterey Park, a hotbed for Chinese food that has given him ready access to Asian ingredients like jackfruit.
When Zambrano isn’t developing recipes for Farmfluence, he runs Comal, a plant-based Mexican food pop-up featuring dishes like smoked jackfruit birria and mushroom tostadas with poblano tapenade. So far, he’s popped up at places like Burgerlords in Highland Park and Cosmic Vinyl in Echo Park.
His dad’s family is from Michoacán and his mom’s family is from Guadalajara, so it felt natural to draw on his Mexican heritage and experiences for Comal, minus meat, since he’s had a plant-based diet for a decade. “I’ve learned that most of the stuff I want to make are easy to make plant-based because Mexican food is a lot about sauces, moles and adobos,” Zambrano says. “Really just flavors that amplify the meat. It doesn’t necessarily have to be meat that we’re using.”
Zambrano is plant-focused, but he's cooked every protein imaginable during his first seven years in restaurants. “In the long run, it kind of helped me out,” he says. “I use methods I learned on non-plant based things on plant-based things.”
“I use methods I learned on non-plant based things on plant-based things.”
At Hotel Albatross, he smoked ham weekly to help make Cubanos, the iconic Cuban-American pork sandwich. “I figured, ‘What if I smoke fake meats?’ or ‘What if I smoke jackfruit?’… If I smoke it first, it will have that smoky flavor plus whatever other sauce I put into it.” Zambrano features jackfruit in his birria, a highly regional Mexican braise that often showcases beef or goat. “Birria is not necessarily meat,” he says. “Birria is the cooking method, and it’s the combination of spices that creates birria.” He braises jackfruit in a spicy vegetable based consommé that he seasons with marjoram, allspice and cloves, resulting in a lighter version that he tucks into fresh-pressed corn tortillas.
Zambrano found his four years at Kitchen Mouse to be particularly influential. That’s when he started to take cooking more seriously and met other talented chefs. “Erica Daking, the owner, is a really great businesswoman,” Zambrano says. “I also met one of my mentors there, who pushed me in the direction of wanting to be a chef and business owner.” Restaurant consultant Jason Wood helped expand his vision for what’s possible. Now Zambrano says, “The more time goes by, the more I see owning a restaurant.” As he works toward this goal, Farmfluence subscribers will continue to benefit through his recipes.