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Enclave Expands “Food as Medicine,” Takes Over San Diego Farm

Chef-owner Lan Thai discusses her plans for a farm-based food destination

As a young girl growing up on a farm in San Diego County, Lan Thai’s dad would hand her shrimp shells from that night’s dinner and tell her, “Go feed the trees.” Lan was too young to understand why, but she did. The trees grew gaudy with fruit. Years later, as she was becoming a chef and diving deeper into the nutritive and health properties of food, she learned you can’t grow healthy food without healthy soil. And shrimp shells are star soil-makers.

Born in a Thai refugee camp as Lan’s family fled the communist takeover of Vietnam, they found their way here. Started growing their own sustenance, fishing local waters for proteins. Her father hadn’t studied soil science, or farming for that matter.

“I asked my dad how he knew shrimp shells were good for soil,” she says. “He said ‘Grandma told me.’ So, in addition to science, I’m a strong believer in the wisdom of ancients.”

On top of passed-down food wisdom, she started studying the scientific studies of healthy food. Her restaurant—Enclave, a small cafe inside the workspace of hard kombucha company, JuneShine—incorporates what she learns. It’s not all twigs and probiotic superseeds. She serves fried chicken and waffles. But every dish on the menu, she explains, has some fermented element.

In this episode of HHH, Lan explains why fermentation is a key to unlocking healthy properties in food. We also talk about her newest project: she just took over a 19-acre regenerative farm in Bonsall where she’ll grow food for her restaurants (she just opened a second location in UTC Westfield)—everything from fruit trees to a medicinal herb garden—and eventually plans to make it into a destination with cabins and an education center, classes on permaculture, food preservation, composting, cooking.

In “Hot Plates,” the longtime Mission Beach staple, Saska’s, is being reborn as Mo’s—a new, Tecture-designed steakhouse with private liquor cabinets and a throwback wood-and-vinyl booth vibe. Cross Street Chicken has opened its third location in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center, with a full cocktail bar run by a former drinksman from Sycamore Den and Fernside, and local steakhouse success story Rare Society is about to become a nationally known brand.  In not-so-good news, the economic fallout of the pandemic hit local brewery Modern Times, who had to close their outposts in Portland, Oakland, Santa Barbara, and L.A. But fans of Texas brisket can rejoice—after three long years of renovations and the world falling apart, our perennial winner of “Best BBQ,” Grand Ole BBQ, is reopening its original North Park location.

For “Two People, Fifty Bucks,” Troy has been out at brunch venues across the city filming a preview for SDM’s upcoming “Brunch Bash.’  While “working,” he discovered the cover star of this month’s issue of SDM—the fried chicken and waffles at Brian’s 24. David went to Whiskey House for all the Whiskey, and Lan went to Lola 55.

Lan Thai

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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