Despite the chilliness of an evening slipping between changing seasons, a couple dozen people gathered in late fall around carefully spaced wooden tables on the grounds of a 6-acre farm near Traverse City. The occasion: A four-course dinner created entirely from plant-based and locally sourced foods, including ingredients grown on the property where guests gathered.
The first course, a salad, was a blend of mixed greens, spinach, and Mahnoomin (wild rice sourced from indigenous tribes), topped with a creamy roasted carrot and jalapeno dressing.
Embracing cooler temperatures, the entrée celebrated comfort: a northern white bean puree cooked in turmeric, black lentils with fresh ground cumin, three types of mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus.
Dessert consisted of a chocolate mousse made with 81 percent cacao from chocolate from Grocer’s Daughter in nearby Empire, and a pumpkin puree and ginger and pear chutney. The pumpkin and heirloom pears were picked on the property.
The young man behind the evening’s menu was Chef Loghan Call, who’s made a name for himself in northern Michigan with his efforts to build a localized regenerative food system through dining experiences, pop-up dinners, education, and community-building.
“A lot of thought goes into each component,” explains Call, noting he pulls ingredients from local farms — including Alchemy Farms in Maple City, where his mother, Naomi Call, grows edible flowers and medicinal herbs that are featured in products available locally and online. “The goal is to tee people up for an enjoyable experience of food they might not otherwise be familiar with,” he says.
Although the pandemic disrupted what would have been a hearty schedule of pop-up dinners at wineries and farms last year, Call managed at least one socially distanced dinner before winter.
Collaborating with his friends, Justin and Colleen Shull, Call hosted the dinner at their farm and studio. The couple, who relocated to Michigan from California, are growing 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.
“Most of the people who came were expecting a farm potluck,” says Colleen Shull, who, along with her husband, is also 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 appreciate the artistry of Loghan’s food, how he displays (it) on the plate, and how beautiful it looks — and everyone loved the food.” Call’s plated creations offer a cornucopia of flavors, enhanced by the natural colors of the plant kingdom. Before each course, he asks guests to wait to take the first bite, so he can explain the ingredients and their health benefits. He encourages them to slow down and practice mindful eating.
“I think I offer an approachable philosophy to healthier food choices,” says Call, 31, who lives in Traverse City. “The dinner experiences are about getting people to think more about their food choices, inspiring them to cook for themselves, and pointing them toward the content I’m creating to help them connect in those ways. 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. The barriers aren’t that big.”
Call’s path to promoting healthy eating and regenerative systems is rooted in his childhood. He grew up in New York on a 5-acre property “brimming with fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs.” He picked seasonal produce and worked under the guidance of his mother, who is also a chef and certified herbalist.
The family eventually moved to California and Call pursued media and sports journalism before experiencing his “aha” moment. A visit to Alegría Farm while studying global sustainability at UCLA reconnected him to the source of food and the importance of nutrient-dense soil.
“Our bodies aren’t counting calories, but nutrients,” he 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.”
Call came to Traverse City to be an executive chef at Goodwill Industries. The job lasted about seven months before he relaunched Planted Cuisine, a business he had begun in Southern California.
“This community has been absolutely incredible in its support for what I’m bringing to the area,” Call says.
As with many businesses, the pandemic has prompted some pivoting. Call has turned his attention to private chef work and meal-prep, and offers an online education platform and a podcast called “Nothing to Eat.” The podcast is presented in a live format with on-the-air questions.
“I want to inspire people to cook again and eat in their homes as much as possible,” he says. “I’m trying to help remove some of the barriers that exist. I want people to understand how healthy food tastes and how to source that food; I try to help them find a path forward that doesn’t seem overwhelming in the home kitchen.”