Traverse City area chef Loghan Call shares his visionary vegan cuisine, rooted in nutrition and sustainability through Planted Cuisine pop-up dinners.
Featured in the March 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Check it out!
It seems appropriate that Loghan Call, a chef passionate about building a regenerative food system, would plant himself in northwest lower Michigan, a largely rural community that has long embraced the bounty of the rolling, bucolic landscape: acres and acres of cherry and fruit orchards, flowing fields of corn and grains, gardens brimming with berries and vegetables, and forests thick with mushrooms and other edibles.
The abundance and that connection to the land—and the lakes, for that matter—has sprouted mom-and-pop farms, niche food entrepreneurs and a farm-to-table movement that consistently ranks Traverse City among the top foodie towns in the country. Less publicized, and perhaps far lesser-known, are efforts to cultivate organic fruits and vegetables and create a healthy food system that begins to put soil health first.
And that’s where the youthful Call comes in, spreading the word, plate by plate, about the importance of healthy, nutrient-rich foods and creating a regenerative food system. He sees food as medicine, and his business, Planted Cuisine, serves as the conduit for his message with pop-up dinners, culinary experiences, education and community building. His multi-course meals are 100 percent plant-based, locally sourced and incorporate food as medicine principles.
“I think we offer an approachable philosophy to healthier food choices,” says Call, 31, who has made Traverse City his home. “The dinner experiences are about getting people to think more about their food choices, inspiring them to cook for themselves and to point them toward the content we are creating to help them connect in those ways.”
Call’s path to promoting healthy eating and regenerative food systems is rooted in his childhood. He grew up in upstate New York on a small patch of land lush with fruits, vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. He picked seasonal produce and worked under the guidance of his mother, Naomi Call, who was a chef at the time. The family eventually moved to California, where Call pursued a career in the media before his “aha” moment. A visit to a farm while studying global sustainability at UCLA reconnected him to the source of food and the importance of healthy soil. Planted Cuisine took root.
“Our bodies aren’t counting calories, but nutrients,” Call says. “The healthier the soil, the more nutrients each bite of food has. By working with our incredible local farming community, we’re able to serve up the most nutrient-dense foods while sharing that educational piece in a setting where folks are engaged and excited to learn.”
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The lanky Call arrived in Traverse City a few years ago at the urging of a food-minded friend, Taylor Moore, who needed an executive chef at Goodwill Northern Michigan. Call and Moore had crossed food paths in Southern California. Moore oversees Goodwill’s Food Rescue, which retrieves soon-to-expire, fresh and nutritious food from a host of stores, farms and bakeries for distribution to food pantries and community meal centers in five Northwest Michigan counties. He sold Call on the region and the aspiring chef moved here, sight unseen.
Call spent about seven months at the Goodwill job, learning essential commercial kitchen skills. “It was an incredible system to learn from,” he recalls. “It was a departure from what I had been doing. I really needed to gain traditional commercial kitchen experience. It was a welcome introduction to the area.”
He soon relaunched Planted Cuisine, working with local farms to secure fresh produce and other ingredients. His sources include his mother’s Alchemy Farms in Maple City, where she grows edible flowers and medicinal herbs. With his pop-up dinners and other endeavors, he quickly immersed himself in the local food community, not only working with growers but also with a host of nonprofit groups with various food goals in mind.
“The work he has done with Planted Cuisine has been an asset to the community,” says Meghan McDermott, director of programs for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide innovative solutions to environmental, health and community issues. “Tasting his delicious food has raised awareness of food and farming … how good vegan food can be and the impact growing food has on the land, how we consumers can support practices that promote the health of the land.”
Call was tapped last fall to help Groundwork with its annual farm-to-table fundraiser, Harvest at the Commons. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually, with Call preparing food boxes for participants and giving a virtual presentation on preparing and cooking the meal.
“He’s so engaging in his conversation,” McDermott says. “He creates a great sense of place, and you can tell he cares deeply about the community and wants to honor and acknowledge the growers that make this place unique. There’s so much more than just farm to table. He helps tell more of the story and takes what he does to heart.”
A Delicious Pop-Up
Call’s calendar of pop-up dinners and live educational programs was disrupted last year by the pandemic, but he managed one experiential dinner before the onset of winter.
Collaborating with friends Justin and Colleen Shull, Call hosted a dinner at their six-acre farm and studio outside Traverse City. The couple, relocated from California, grows tomatoes, peppers, root vegetables, greens, radishes and berries at their Silver Lake Farmstead, a former dairy farm. They’ve also started a small community agricultural program.
A couple dozen people gathered around carefully spaced wooden tables on the farm grounds for a four-course meal—a dinner created entirely from plant-based and locally sourced foods, some ingredients coming from the surrounding gardens.
The first course, a salad, was a blend of mixed greens, spinach and wild rice (sourced from indigenous tribes), topped with a creamy roasted carrot and jalapeño dressing. With cooler temperatures that evening, the second course called for comfort food: A northern white bean puree cooked in turmeric, black lentils with fresh ground cumin, three types of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.
“A lot of thought goes into each component,” Call explains. “The goal is to tee people up for an enjoyable experience of food they might not otherwise be familiar with.”
Dessert consisted of a chocolate mousse, made with chocolate from Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in nearby Empire, and a pumpkin puree, ginger and pear chutney. The pumpkin and heirloom pears were among the produce picked from the Shull’s property.
“Most of the people who came were expecting a farm potluck,” says Colleen Shull, who, along with her husband, is a landscape painter.“ They were so surprised at how fancy it was. They didn’t expect courses that were so artistic. Since I’m an artist, I really appreciated the artistry of his food, how he displayed the food on the plate and how beautiful it looked … and everyone loved the food.”
Call’s plated creations offer a cornucopia of flavors, with colors as bright as a rainbow, taking advantage of the natural colors of the plant kingdom. Before each course, he asks guests to wait before taking that first bite, allowing him to explain the ingredients and their health benefits. He also encourages guests to slow down and practice mindful eating, and, well, have fun.
“When a course arrives at someone’s table, it looks beautiful and it tastes delicious, but, honestly, I can look them in the eye and tell them you can do this at home,” Call says. “The barriers are not that big.”
With his pop-up dinners and other outdoor experiences disrupted by the pandemic, Call had to pivot, rethinking some aspects of his growing business. He remains focused on spreading awareness of how important well-grown, well-sourced foods are for the health resiliency of individuals and the community.
With the pandemic lingering, he plans to continue private consultation, online digital education and a podcast series. The latter will continue to expand its focus to bring in the voices of farmers, chefs and physicians—storytelling with the power of the three professions working together.
So far, he’s produced several podcasts, interviewing people immersed in various aspects of the local food scene, including his long-time friend, Moore.
“I think Loghan has definitely had an impact on the community,” says Moore, who pursued a culinary career before turning to nonprofits. “He has introduced people to plant-based diets. He has introduced people to the idea that we need to have sustainable agriculture and food systems and to put energy into making our soil and our diets healthier. Those are things Loghan is vocal about. His is a voice I was not hearing in this area before.”
It’s a voice that, in a short time, has inspired plenty of people in Northwest Michigan. Call remains committed to encouraging people to cook at home with locally sourced ingredients while helping them to understand the connection between soil health and human health.
“We want to inspire people to cook again and eat in their homes as much as possible,” he says. “We’re two generations removed from knowing how to cook. We want to build the foundation of understanding how to source properly and then finding a path forward that doesn’t seem overwhelming in the home kitchen. The beautiful thing about working in harmony with nature is that once you get a taste and an understanding of what food can and should be, it’s like a light flips on and your body lights up. It’s all about setting the stage and getting folks to take that first bite.”
Find this and more food and drink articles in the March 2021 annual food and drink issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.