David Lee is the president and chef of Field Roast Grain Meat, the Seattle company that re-introduced flavor and craft to plant-based meats when it launched in 1997.
Field Roast creates meats and cheeses that are not just a replacement for animal products, but an improvement on them in virtually every way. To make it happen, David brought together the ancient Asian grain-processing techniques for creating mien ching and seitan with the European tradition of artisanal sausage-making. This, combined with the company’s commitment to high-quality, delicious, and nutritious ingredients, makes Field Roast's products truly exceptional.
Seriously, it’s not just marketing speak: David's Forager’s Roast is actually made from hand-foraged chanterelle mushrooms and wild huckleberries from the forests of the Pacific Northwest. And I can’t even read the description for the Smoked Apple Sage sausage links without salivating.
To put it simply, this food is inspired. And David Lee brings the inspiration.
I was lucky enough to chat with David for a few minute about his commitment to making delicious, ethical food.
What is your motivation for focusing on food?
Food is where it all comes together. It’s how we relate to the Earth and the rest of life on Earth, whether it’s animals or each other, and I chose food at the age of 28 for my career for that very reason. Food is such a powerful force to leverage for change, and of course, you need it to live too, so it’s a fundamental business!
What one or two people, books, or films have most influenced or inspired you in your work?
It was definitely The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown, which came out in 1970. Brown was a monk who lived at the Tassajara Zen Center in California, and he wrote what I consider to be the quintessential hippie cookbook. The book was really focused on putting love into what you’re doing, and it taught me to put love into food. That’s guided me in essentially everything I’ve done since, and really put me on my path.
[Editor's Note: Brown also helped found the famous Greens restaurant in San Francisco, which The New York Times credits as "the restaurant that brought vegetarian food out from sprout-infested health food stores and established it as a cuisine in America."]
What has been your most memorable moment with the company?
I started Field Roast about 20 years ago, and back then, “vegan” was really a combative term. It was very niche, it was seen as being odd. Whereas throughout my career and as the company has grown, that perception has changed tremendously. People are much more open, and it’s accepted by people from all walks of life.
One moment that sticks out to me was when we were at Costco doing a roadshow about seven years ago. We had set up a booth inside the door and were grilling our sausages. A man pushing a cart full of ribs and chicken walked up and took a sample. And he absolutely loved it! He grabbed a pack of Field Roast and put it in his cart, and that was when I realized we were going into the mainstream.
It was a fantastic moment.
If you could be remembered for one thing, what would you want it to be?
First and foremost, I’d like to be remembered for being a good person: a good dad, husband, employer – and someone who makes good food. Beyond those basics, what I’m really trying to do is blend the activities of business into the context of a social enterprise. That’s intrinsic in our brand at Field Roast as well, not just my own personal goals. We say we do two things here: We make food, and we employ people. So really, it’s all about how much good we can do with our work, for our community, our employees, our customers, and the planet.
What product of initiative are you most excited about right now?
I’m extremely excited about the expanding consumer interest in compassionate food and the opportunities that brings to our community of stakeholders, along with its impact on the Earth and on our culture broadly—that’s got to be the most exciting thing that’s happening right now. This fundamental shift is happening from animal protein to plant protein, and it’s inexorable.
Of course, I'm also really excited about how Field Roast is growing and watching our brand continue to blossom!
Please keep it coming! Thanks for everything you do, David.
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