Uncanny Kitchen – Southwest Virginia’s Most Socially Responsible Restaurant!
Not the tiniest detail was overlooked in creating Uncanny Kitchen, hands-down the most socially responsible restaurant in the region. It just doesn’t get much better than this!
The secret to the appeal of Uncanny Kitchen is in the partnership between owner David Basinger and his girlfriend of three years, Lisa Sykes. If David is the chef and the creative culinary mind behind Uncanny Kitchen, Lisa is its social conscience and marketing force. Aside from their talents, experience and market savvy, these two are a couple of seriously nice people!
David, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Western Culinary of Portland, OR, has had opportunities to work in large restaurants and run the kitchens of high-dollar establishments in other areas of the country. He preferred, however, to bring his talents home to serve the community he grew up in, offering wholesome, delicious food at affordable prices.
It is important to David to connect with the farmers in the area. When he was at culinary school, one of the things he liked best was the opportunity to join the co-op. He was instrumental in the development of the Farm To Table program in Portland. He often volunteered at Sauvie Island, where the school had some land. He peeled potatoes or turned compost on his off time. He’d pick berries and volunteer with Sauvie Organics who gave him plants to grow at the school. He came to see the value of working within a community of agricultural entrepreneurs and he liked this model of doing business.
One of the motivations for opening a restaurant in Abingdon is the infrastructure of organic farmers which already existed in the area as well as the relatively long growing season. What makes the farmers market work here is Appalachian Sustainable Development and the standards which they’ve set. There are many farmers markets which allow produce to be brought in from other areas. The produce at Abingdon Farmers Market is required to be locally grown.
Ninety-eight percent of the fruits and vegetables served at Uncanny Kitchen is organic. David receives them from two sources. The first is a program called Rooted In Appalachia, whereby a restaurant can go on-line and place an order and in two days the order of vegetables, which was grown sustainably on local organic farms, will be delivered. The second source is the farmers themselves. David can just give a farmer a call and say, “Hey, I’m out of lettuce. Do you have any?” Chances are, the farmer will drop what he’s doing and run a bag of lettuce over to him. Now, that’s a community working together! ”You’ll never find this kind of service from one of those big food distributers,” says Basinger.
Uncanny Kitchen uses environmentally friendly detergents and recycled take-out containers. David built much of the furniture in the restaurant, which Lisa points out with pride. The partition wall between his kitchen area and the public area was made from shipping crates which housed his stove vents. The building is painted with environmentally preferred paint which does not outgas harmful fumes and the cleaning products used are EPA registered and biodegradable. Uncanny Kitchen uses recycled plastics for their forks used for take-out. They also use take-out containers made of sugar cane and are 100% recyclable. The soda cans from the natural sodas they sell go to Holly Help Spay and Neuter Fund to help reduce the number of unwanted and homeless pets in the region.
Even the sodas they offer are part of their food standards. Uncanny Kitchen does not serve sodas that have high-fructose corn syrup, that have sucralose, aspartame, saccharine, or artificial dyes or sodium benzoate. The sodas are cane sugar sweetened with natural flavors. There is nothing artificial in them. The diet sodas are sweetened with Stevia. They also offer an infused water which changes daily. One day it was watermelon-peach, the next cucumber-chocolate mint, the next green tea and spearmint, all very refreshing and sugar free.
Lisa is the quality control person at Uncanny Kitchen. She has a background in marketing, sustainability and writing. She works as a sustainability specialist helping spas “green” their practices. She evaluates the labels of their skin care products and tells the spas whether these products are really pristine products and, if not, why. Interestingly, many of the ingredients in these products cross over into the food industry. By knowing what these ingredients do and how they work, Lisa is able to decide which ingredients she wants in their kitchen and rejects products with ingredients that she knows not to be healthy.
Lisa has been a vegetarian since 1993. Over the years she has given up the dairy and eggs and became vegan because she feels better physically and because she feels it is more humane. ”The other part is the sustainability aspect of it. It takes a lot of resources to feed cows and chickens and animals to grow for food when you can use much less to grow plants,” says Lisa.
Uncanny Kitchen is a model one would hope other budding restauranteurs would emulate. Environmentally conscious, organic ingredients free of herbicides, pesticides and genetically modified organisms, reasonable prices and community driven. This is a restaurant whose time has arrived. I think David and Lisa are onto something!
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