How Culver City Salads is winning friends with salad in Vancouver

You do win friends with salad. After years working as a fashion designer and nail artist, Christina Culver discovered that her vegan salads were winning hearts all over her hometown of Vancouver, and Culver City Salads was born. From lunch delivery to a solar powered food truck that can always be found at the city’s coolest events, the blond beauty managed to turn a passion for cooking into a movement. We’ve been addicted since day one, so we had to get her to spill on how it all went down and give us some expert insight on what’s next after kale.

THIS WHOLE THING BEGAN WITH LUNCH DELIVERIES TO FRIENDS. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE IT A CAREER? I wouldn’t call it a decision exactly, more of just a fly by the seat of my panties kind of move. Culver City Salads was born when I was trying to make a go of it as a nail artist (early 2011) about four years after putting my fashion label Christina Darling to bed. That wasn’t proving to keep me busy enough so it was time to figure out what was next. I’ve always loved cooking for my family (I’m the second oldest of six kids) and friends. It’s also my yoga. At the end of a long day I’m happiest cooking up something new and feel good. I’d gone vegan a few years prior and really loved the challenge of making complete, well balanced meals that no one would guess lacked animal proteins – vegan trickery I like to call it.

Two of my closest friends suggested I start making some of my classic entree size salads for them and drop them at their offices for lunch and this soon snowballed into large office deliveries (Lululemon and Hootsuite were regulars). The first year I spent running around the city delivering on foot, transit and borrowing cars. What started as a word of mouth and Facebook fan page soon turned into a website where you had to order the day prior, and we were retailing off the Juice Truck and a few other places. By the spring of 2013 our food truck Granny Smith hit the road. This is when my little sister Sarah came to my rescue, we’ve been working together ever since. Our focus has shifted more to larger corporate deliveries and catering and retail. In the past year we’ve done weddings, presidential events, retreats, sporting events, store openings – some on and some off the truck. We’re now talking about opening our own space and, well, about a million other things.

And in terms of this being it for me, well it so totally is… for now. Things are moving so incredibly fast, but food and especially healthy food is a constant and something that we all need. I am so lucky – I spend my days surrounded by nothing but pure health and super grateful people that are working to be the best versions of themselves.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW SOLAR POWERED FOOD TRUCK! Oh man – I’m still pinching myself over this! From the get-go I was dead set against running our kitchen appliances off of a generator. We decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign to raise $20,000 to put towards turning our little truck energy efficient. Just as we were gearing up to launch the campaign my friend told me about the prep fridge his family business had been developing for three years that was basically going to answer my prayers (I love good timing). It runs off 20% the energy of a regular fridge. The campaign was a success, we hit our goal! We got the first of these fridges – the prototype. The solar panels will happen in the next few months, we’re just in the process of re-doing all the research and weighing our options. Solar is so insanely progressive! I want to do this once and I want to do it right.

SO HAS KALE HAD ITS 15 MINUTES? WHAT’S THE NEW NEW IN VEGETABLES? Kale is basically an international celebrity! Just for the record… I’ve been using it since the beginning. Everyone knows that the darker the green the better, so if you’re sick of the hype collard greens, chard and micro-greens are waiting for you! I obviously love vegetables like nobody’s business and I really try not to discriminate. When I’m at the grocery store and something jumps out at me I always grab it and treat it as an opportunity to play. My most recent culinary adventure involved sunchokes and tomatillos. How about trying to eat the rainbow in fruit and veggies everyday? I dare you.

People We Love: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

When we spotted their retro pale yellow truck at a Lucky Magazine boutique crawl a few years back, we knew Van Leeuwen Ice Cream was on to something. Not only is their artisan ice cream made from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with fresh and natural ingredients, but their stylish truck has fashion editors running for the ice cream man. Founded by Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen and Laura O’Neill in 2008, they now have six trucks and three stores around New York and Los Angeles bringing artisan ice cream to the masses. And they’ve got a book deal. With summer around the corner we’ve been craving ice cream, like a lot, so we got the scoop (get it?) on the business of Van Leeuwen and their Bali-inspired flavours from co-founder and owner Laura.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE BUSINESS OF MAKING ICE CREAM? There’s three of us, myself, Ben and Pete. Ben and Pete used to drive an ice cream truck around the neighbourhood. Back when Ben was in college, that was one of his summer jobs and Pete did it as well. So they would drive around the neighbourhood in Connecticut and sell ice creams – ice creams on sticks, so yummy but nothing particularly special.

They made a lot of money doing it – it was a very lucrative summer job. Ben saved enough money to take himself around South East Asia. Fast forward to 2006 when Ben was in his final year of college – he had this idea one day, this realization that there were all these ice cream trucks in New York but none of them were serving particularly special ice cream, in kinda cute but not beautiful trucks. He thought “Why doesn’t anyone scoop good ice creams off trucks?”.

I was still living in Australia then but was planning on moving over here. Ben called me one day and was like, “I think when you get here we should start an ice cream truck business.” I mean none of us have any formal culinary training but we’re definitely all very much food enthusiasts. It kind of grew from this crazy simple idea into writing a business plan and starting to toy around with recipes at home and finding places that would eventually make the ice cream. We came up with the recipes at home but then we needed somewhere we could make it all large-scale. We bought our first two trucks and had them retrofitted into what they are today.

WE LOOOVE THE COLOUR OF YOUR TRUCKS. Thanks! It was hard to find that colour because we could see it in our mind’s eye, this sunshiny-yellow. We’d go through all these Pantone books and we couldn’t quite find the right kind of colour, in regular paint books. But we ended up finding it in this vintage General Motors book. It’s a vintage car colour.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH YOUR SPECIAL FLAVOURS, LIKE THE SWEET STICKY BLACK RICE? Sticky Black Rice, I’m not sure if you know, but we also have a restaurant in Brooklyn, called Selamat Pagi. It’s an Indonesian restaurant. We opened that up about 18 months ago. I’m from Australia and when Ben and I were back visiting my family we would sometimes go to Bali because it’s so close and once you get there it’s really cheap. It’s an amazing place. We really fell in love with that style of cooking and that kind of flavour profile. One of the dishes you see over there is Sticky Black Rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan or vanilla bean. Once we started doing that for the restaurant it was kind of natural that the two departments would merge and we would start creating flavours geared from Selamat with the Leeuwen process.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BOOK THAT’S COMING OUT. It’s a cookbook with about 60 ice cream recipes. It’s the type of book we wish we had when we were getting started. That’ll hopefully come out in the spring next year. We’re just testing all the recipes right now. It’ll be out with Ecco Press which is part of HarperCollins.

IS THERE A FLAVOUR THAT YOU GUYS LOVE BUT DOESN’T GET A LOT OF LOVE? It’s interesting actually. We have limited space in our freezers, particularly on our trucks, so in order to do special flavours we need to not do some of the other classics. We’ll still run specials but they won’t be available all the time, but the best flavours are cinnamon, hazelnut and palm sugar. We think all three are incredible but people do tend to go with what they know. Vanillia is 100% our best seller.

We have a lot of people who are really devoted to those flavours and are so sad that they can’t get them all the time now. Those flavours deserved more attention than they got, but I’m excited to make room for more special flavours. Recently we’ve been doing a goat’s cheese with berry compote which is incredible. Also, a milk chocolate with salted marcona almonds.