Dreux Ellis is the Executive Chef at the newly opened Cafe Gratitude in Little Italy, San Diego, a beautifully appointed as well as fresh and inviting restaurant with a nice balance between upscale and comfortable.
Dreux is one of those on-the job chefs who learned his trade by working in every capacity he could from the time he was 15 years old, with his first job in a truck stop diner. However, he says that the most important part of his professional growth took place during his 8 years in Venice, Italy where he had the opportunity to participate in a classical European apprenticeship working under Michelin-starred chefs.
A vegetarian since he was 19 years old, Dreux has always directed his attention to a vegan/vegetarian cuisine, although he’s had to work with meat at various points in his career. “Vegan food is my passion and my inspiration,” he says.
For 5 years Dreux worked under Chef Annie Somerville of the famed Green’s restaurant in San Francisco, saying “She really opened my eyes to the beauty of allowing high quality, locally-sourced food to be the star of a dish. She was sourcing produce from local farms in the Bay Area 20 years before it became the ‘thing to do’ amongst foodies.”
During his early days with Café Gratitude, when the menu was all raw, Dreux developed his skills on the raw vegan front. “It opened my eyes to a whole new world of ingredients and techniques that were new and exciting to me,” he says. “What I love most about our food is that it promotes health not only for our guests, but also for the planet. Our commitment to an organic, whole food, plant-based menu encourages healthy soils and healthy bodies. I love that.”
At Cafe Gratitude, everything is made from scratch. There are no bottles or jars, not even a can opener. “If I need ketchup, I start working out a recipe, not looking for a supplier,” explains Dreux. “We have a commitment to organic. Many restaurants talk in vague terms about ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ products ‘when in season’. We walk the walk. All organic, all the time.”
For his whole food, plant based and produce-driven menu, Dreux has spent much of his time building relationships with local farmers, sourcing the farmers’ markets as well. He changes the menu seasonally twice a year and runs seasonal specials between primary menu changes.”We are fortunate enough being in Southern California that I can buy almost everything locally virtually year round. We also work as much as possible with our own Be Love Farm in Vacaville which is a great resource.”
Dreux says his committment to sustainability is fully integrated with the Slow Food Movement. “Seed saving, soil initiatives and supporting small, local farmers are common themes both in Café Gratitude and the Slow Food Movement. Some of his favorite dishes on the menu is the ‘I am Bountiful’ consisiting of quinoa pasta with marinated eggplant, heirloom cherry tomato sauce and wild arugula and the ‘I am Spectacular’ salad of grilled seasonal perennials.
Dreux says he is an urban farmer, obsessed with anything related to self-sufficiency and sustainability. He tries to eat as close to the ground as possible, and his my favorite meal to prepare at home is a giant rainbow salad.
©Written by Maria Desiderata Montana