Photos by Ryan Hill of Studio 8183 in KC, styling by Casey Dobbins
Meet Mrs. Tasty, one of the many monikers Casey Dobbins takes on when she isn't prepping delicious eats at Echo Park's Elf Cafe or food styling. As Mrs. Tasty, Dobbins hosts an ongoing cosmic video series aimed at demystifying vegetarian cooking — usually while also rather baked herself. Honestly, it's a stoner's dream — combining spacy elements with a non-pretentious introduction to easy, meat-free cooking. What's not to love?
MERRY JANE caught up with Dobbins to talk about Elf's legacy, the secret to perfectly-fried tofu, and how psyched she is that recreational legalization finally passed in California.
Deep Fried Tofu Tacos with Marinated Cabbage Slaw with Silly Sauce
Fried Tofu Ingredients
4 cups peanut oil in 4-qt. high heat pan
1 lb. firm tofu (organic/non-GMO — don't kid yourself)
½ cup fine grain cornmeal
½ cup AP flour
5 egg whites
¾ cup water
Splash of Topo Chico or any other good sparkles
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
Get your oil rippin' hot — about 350 degrees. Combine cornmeal, Topo Chico, garlic powder, smoked paprika and salt in one bowl, egg whites in another. Get ready to dip and slip.
Marinated Cabbage Slaw Ingredients
½ cup red cabbage, julienned
2 cup fresh corn off the cob (or use what you can get)
2 large carrot, diced and blanched
½ medium white onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ c. apple cider vinegar
1 tbs. sugar
Juice of one lime
Salt, to taste
Fresh herbs (like mint, cilantro, scallion), to taste
Combine vinegar, sugar, lime, salt, garlic, jalapeno, and herbs together, mix well. Add remaining ingredients, mix well, and let sit for at least 15 min.
Creamy Jalapeno Salsa aka "Silly Sauce"
½ cup THC or CBD oil
4 jalapenos, stems removed and seeded
3 large garlic cloves
½ lg yellow onion, ½ slices
½ perfect avocado
Salt, to taste
Squirt of lime
Heat unoiled pan over medium heat until… well, hot. Add weed oil and add jalapenos, garlic and onion, a bit of salt and get that shit sizzlin'. This needs to move pretty fast so that the THC doesn't activate and burn off. (Anything hotter than 350 is getting pretty sketchy, so try to keep it around 340 if possible.) Sizzle these babies until pepper skins loosen and start to char and the garlic and onion start to turn a carmely color, around 6 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let it cool down a bit, and then toss into blender with avocado and lime juice and blend on high for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Let it roll, baby. The longer the better. That's what she said. Salt to taste. That's also what she said?
Warm your tortillas.
When everything is ready to go, take the tofu pieces one by one and dip in the flour/cornmeal mix, then egg whites, then flour mix. Carefully place the tofu in the oil and fry until golden brown — about 3 minutes. Remove and place on plate with paper towel, cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while you cook the rest.
Assemble your taco, homie! Add some hot sauce. Maybe some crema. Probably both.
MERRY JANE: Elf Cafe has been an Echo Park vegetarian mecca for, like, more than a decade. Tell me about how you started working for them and what a typical day on the job looks like.
Casey Dobbins: Elf was the first restaurant I went to in Los Angeles after moving here a year and a half ago. From the moment I walked in I was obsessed with its vibrations, music, and cozy, lantern-lit dining space. We sat at the bar and watched the chefs and I thought to myself, "I gotta get in on this shit." A few months later I was telling a friend about my interest in Elf and she happened to know the owner and gave me the golden rec. I went in there and was like, "No, I don't have any experience on the line but I do have The 3 Cs: confidence, coordination, and I'm competitive as hell and I know I can rip it here if you give me a chance." They did.
A typical day at Elf starts with a familial greeting from the crew, and then straight to setting up your line. The restaurant is busy pretty much every night and there are only two chefs that crank out all of the night's food so it's gotta be dialed and ready for service or shit can hit the fan. Doors open at 6 and your head goes down, kitchen closes at 11 and your head comes up and you're like wtf just happened? It's intense, super fun, and exhausting.
You do all sorts of dabbling with food—including one of my favs, the video series Mrs. Tasty's Vegetarian Space Station. How did you get started and what other projects do you have coming up?
Mrs. Tasty has been a brainchild of mine for as long as I can remember. There was lots of stoner talk and ideas being tossed around for years, but it wasn't until I went to college and really started cooking in my own kitchen that I was like, OK, I think I'm officially Mrs. Tasty, let's do this shit. I consider MTVSS to still be in an incubation phase. My ultimate goal is to ixnay the intimidation factor associated with cooking vegetarian food and to make it feel more inclusive instead of it being another topic that we can divide ourselves with. I hate the culture of meat-eaters making fun of vegetarians and vegetarians judging meat-eaters — it's ridic. Just be conscious of the food you're eating and don't be a dick. Smoke a J and let's play, you know? I'll be cranking out some new episodes soon and hope to keep on keepin' on the Space Station for years to come.
Aside from MTVSS and Elf, I also work as a food stylist and recipe developer which is sick af. I love that world so much and have worked with some amazing people and companies. Continuing to push the boundaries of that field is also a priority for me. Upcoming collaborations include some exciting work with the cannabis industry, and a re-release of the Mrs. Tasty's A Day On The Space Station: A Cruelty-Free Cookbook with Joke Pairings. Lots of fun things are finding their way to/from the Space Station these days.
Mrs. Tasty is so wonderful weird and full of camp. Walk us through how you ideate each episode. And exactly how often are you stoned during the planning and filming processes?
We start every episode with a J, coffee, and a conversation about food. How can we break it down for the people of the world? What is it that's stopping them in their tracks when they buy a block a tofu, take it home, and freak out? I'm trying to build a foundation of information for people to access when they feel the need to make a dietary change in their life. The grass helps the creative juices flow, for sure. In my mind it also helps make the ideas less preachy and serious and more approachable and fun. But to answer your question, 99 percent of the time I'm working on Mrs. Tasty I'm relatively lifted. The other 1 percent I'm twisting one up.
Besides the obvious munchies connection, why does experimenting with food and weed go so well together?
Natural elements work well together, son! For me, grass opens up my creative cellar where I can access fine-aged ideas that I've been waiting to implement into my reality, you know? It also helps ease the urge to stay within the lines of a recipe (if I'm using one) and get more experimental with my cooking. Sure, sometimes shit gets weird, but you wouldn't know if you didn't try.
Recreational legalization only recently passed in Los Angeles. How have your personal edibles explorations been shaped by this development?
Well, if you mean, "Are you stoked that I can eat pot food and not find myself questioning how it's possible for my husband to love a loser like me or spiral out thinking about how the universe expands infinitely in every direction?" then I would say my edible explorations have been some of the best explorations I've ever had. I'm actually obsessed with CBD more than anything when it comes to eating cannabis. It'd be a lie for me to say that I could give up smoking pot and just eat CBD, but it would be one lie that I'd feel comfortable telling. Does that make sense?
Tell me a little about this recipe you're sharing with us today. How did you develop it? Any pairing recommendations (drinks, movies, music, company, etc.)?
This is one of my fave recipes that falls under Tofu 101. I try to develop recipes that reveal the magic of tofu's diversity, but in a simple way. The texture of this tofu is incredible, crispy on the outside, warm and tender on the inside. I don't usually try to make obvious, "Oh, this tofu is like fish in a fish taco"-type foods, but in this case it sort of is. The tangy marinated cabbage slaw is a crucial textural juxtaposition to the tofu; together these two — paired with a fresh tortilla — send your taste- and best buds dancing into the night. Goes perfectly with tequila cocktails, the warm sexy sounds of Erasmo Carlos, and friends you can fart in front of.
For more on Casey Dobbins' culinary feats, visit her website here
Follow Beca Grimm on Twitter