By Jan Norris, writing in Florida Weekly
In a few short years, Christopher Slawson has gone from a word-of-mouth private chef to owning a restaurant that’s expanded twice in only three years.
At Christopher’s Kitchen in Palm Beach Gardens, he takes the concept of a “plant-based” restaurant to new levels. Vegetarian, vegan and raw foods are prepared to appeal to anyone.
“I think everyone wants to feel great,” Mr. Slawson said. “Right off the bat, people want food that tastes good. No matter what you’re making it has to taste good or people aren’t going to try it,” he said.
But he says 85 percent of his customers are not vegetarians. “Most of them consume animal products on a regular basis, but they come here because the food’s fresh and they like the vibe.
“I’ve had guys who tell me ‘I was b—— and moaning because my wife dragged me down here.’ Now, they’re regular customers — they come in for their juices in the morning or wraps at lunch.”
Though several pro athletes are frequent diners, it’s mostly women who seek out the restaurant. “The male clientele are not really as educated about food. They’re accustomed to a meat heavy diet. Once they learn that eating plants makes you feel great, then it’s OK.”
Mr. Slawson, 31, didn’t learn the diet from his parents, but adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in high school. After college, he moved to Santa Monica, Calif., where vegan and other plant-based diets are “the heartbeat of the area,” he said. “I really connected with it.”
He learned about a raw diet as well — foods not really cooked. These are plant foods not heated beyond 115 degrees so as not to kill their living enzymes.
As he learned more, he decided he wanted to open a restaurant. “It was a home run for me — it would be a way to get (the diet) out to the masses.”
His family is in Florida, and he had some private clients he was making foods for here, along with those who wanted him to be their private chef, so he returned to South Florida.
“I had 25 clients I was making food for. It became too much work, so that’s how Christopher’s Kitchen was born. The menu was an extension of the foods for a family I was working for.”
He opened just as plant-based diets were garnering mainstream attention. “It was really wild. You get lucky. The timing, when we opened, couldn’t have been better,” he said.
But it’s not only vegetarian, which sometimes includes dairy and eggs, or the stricter vegan (nothing but plant based foods) here. “The reason we’re successful is we embrace all lifestyles of food. We’re here to share, not to tell them what to eat. It’s not conducive to the mission.”
He sees a variety of diners come in to try the foods — wraps, sandwiches, pizzas, salads and main dishes. “People’s food choices change all the time. You can have someone who says, ‘I’m going to eat fish for a week.’ Then the next time they come in, they’re eating steak. But they’re here. We’re saying, ‘That’s OK. Keep that coming and you’re good.’”
The most popular things on the menu are the fresh juices he blends in house. “It’s a tie between Passion and Vitality. Passion is pineapple, strawberry, ginger, orange and trace minerals. Vitality has cucumber, pineapple, olive juice, and E3Live — a wild algae that’s been known to help autism, brain and liver function. It’s a superfood. We sell it by the shot, too, and incorporate it into our juices.”
CK tacos are another favorite. “We make a tortilla shell from nuts, seeds and vegetables. They’re dehydrated, then cut into the shell. It’s labor intensive.”
For this reason, some of the foods are more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, but Mr. Slawson doesn’t feel the restaurant pricing is out of line. “Everything on the menu is less than $20. You can come in and get a full meal with a fresh juice for $25.”
The cold-pressed juices made daily feature six or seven ingredients each. “We bottle everything ourselves. It’s a lengthy, labor-intensive process.”
He’s committed to the restaurant and its workers, as well.
“We believe in taking care of the people who work here, so that plays a role.”
A private chef making this type of food would cost three times as much, he said. “We have people who come in and don’t want to spend $12 on a glass of fresh juice but they’ll spend $20 on a glass of Merlot.”
Quality costs. “You want the finer things, the best foods, it’s going to cost.
“We don’t cut corners or compromise quality. Everything we have is 100 percent organic. We pay more for the base products and with labor involved, coming from my perspective, I think we’re really reasonable.”
At the organic grill and wine bar next door, he expanded on the hot foods served at Christopher’s Kitchen. “We have gourmet pizzas, pad Thai coconut curry — we don’t use any tofu or soy, though. We stay pretty clean with our foods. We bring it together flavor-wise with the sauces we use.”
The wines served also are befitting the lifestyle — either organic, sustainable, or bio-dynamic or all three.
“We actually have a wine-tasting machine, you can get it by the ounce or half-ounce sample. You buy a card and put money on it, then buy what you want to try. It’s a fun way to try a lot of different wines.”
He likes that he’s got a niche. “It really comes down to living a plant-based lifestyle. We hear from customers there’s nothing like this anywhere. How many plant-based kitchens do you see?”
He’s happy for the success that’s brought the grill room and a take-out spot, CK Express, next door. “We’re doing really well. We’ve tried to listen to our customers and give them what they need and want. We hope to grow the business and open more locations — that’s the plan. We’re thinking about opening a take-out concept in West Palm Beach.”
Name: Christopher Slawson
Original Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Name of Restaurant: Christopher’s Kitchen, Midtown, 4783 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. 318-6191; christopherskitchenfl.com
Mission: “To serve you the freshest certified organic plant based cuisine, juices and super foods of superior nutritional value and delicious taste.”
Cuisine: Organic plant-based cuisine.
Training for your job: “I’m self-taught.”
What’s your footwear of choice in the kitchen? “Nike or Vans.”
What’s your guilty food pleasure? “Don’t have one anymore. After switching to eating clean plant-based foods, I eat anything I want without guilt.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a restaurateur
or chef? “Listen to your gut and stay true to your mission and what you believe in. Never sacrifice quality, and learn from your customers whenever possible.”
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You can read my In the Kitchen series every Thursday in Florida Weekly newspaper, where news and features from the northern county area are highlighted. Pick it up free at numerous shops and businesses from West Palm Beach to Tequesta.