In The Spotlight- Jessica Karp of Hu Kitchen
I am always on the hunt for new restaurants, juice bars, markets, and takeout spots that fit into my clean, green, plant based eating philosophy. One of the joys of living in NYC is just when I think I know my city inside and out, I discover someplace new! Sometimes the new discovery turns into a minor obsession, as was the case when I was first introduced to
. Hu Kitchen is a dream to me. From delicious pressed juices, to smoothies, to amazing prepared food, to the crave worthy mashbar™ I never tire of options when I visit. My most recent fixation has been the Rustic Root Vegetable Mash topped with Magic Mushroom Mix, hot sauce and cilantro. Go to Hu, try it and thank me later!
Being the Hu fan (fanatic?) I am, I was thrilled when owner and co-founder Jessica Karp agreed to answer a few questions for me about how she and her brother Jordan came to create Hu Kitchen, what their slogan means, and so much more. I hope you enjoy this latest "In the Spotlight" interview with Jessica!
1. How did the idea for Hu Kitchen come about? Do either of you come from a food or restaurant background?
It started with my brother, Jordan. He was a real estate developer for 8 years until he was inspired by Dr. Mark Hyman's UltraMind Solution. He randomly picked up the book in the Las Vegas airport after a rough weekend. The book set him off on a "wow, what am I eating?" journey that resulted in his reading everything under the sun and trying every dietary theory out on himself. He questioned the conventional dietary wisdom and became a bloodhound for all of the tricky semantics used in the food industry that allow unhealthy foods to masquerade as healthy foods. I started to come around to his way of thinking after I had my daughter and started her transition to solid foods. I was ready to make a change, and he told me to read In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan. I was immediately on board at that point and saw real changes in my body and mind. We decided to pull the trigger on a “no-BS,” more primal food concept that came to be Hu Kitchen. We had no real food industry experience, but we sought help from industry experts and immersed ourselves in the food and wellness worlds. We think that being outsiders at the beginning was an asset in an industry that gets by by putting cheap, refined foods into the customer’s body. If you look at the state of our society’s collective health, that methodology is not sustainable, and people are revolting against it. Our goal is to provide product and a place for that revolution.
2. What does the name Hu Kitchen and your slogan "get back to human" mean?
Get Back to Human is really about three things: First, it’s about getting back to eating simple, real, minimally-processed foods with ingredients that our bodies evolved to recognize as food. Second, it’s about getting back to a pre-neurotic relationship with our food and with eating in general. There is so much conflicting information out there these days about what to eat and what’s good for you; it can be overwhelming and confusing. We thought it was time to simplify. The easiest way to simplify is to go back to eating real, minimally-processed foods. The words “healthy” and “natural” have been hijacked, and it is time to take them back. Lastly, to address the Kitchen part, we wanted to create an environment that was welcoming and homey for New Yorkers, a kitchen away from home and the office where they could come and eat together, where they could check their scrutiny at the door and allow us to curate a delicious meal for them made with the highest-quality ingredients.
3. Hu Kitchen serves a very specific (and incredibly delicious) menu of food, juices and smoothies. Can you tell me a little about how you designed the menu and what standards a dish must meet in order to be served at Hu?
We designed our menu with the intention of offering something for everyone - regardless of their chosen food paradigm - with the one common theme being the highest possible quality ingredients with no “fake” or “weird” ingredients that our bodies will reject. We wanted to offer something for the vegan, the Paleo eater, the carnivore, the gluten-intolerant, the person just seeking good, clean food. Regardless of how you eat, we want Hu to be a place where everyone (all humans) can meet and eat together. All of these different food choices are having a balkanizing effect on communities. We wanted to unite all eaters under the banner of quality and awareness.
Because of that stance on quality, the standards a dish must meet in order to be served at Hu are quite high. Aside from the dishes themselves having to be delicious, creative and exciting, we are excruciatingly stringent about the ingredients we use. We have an in-house guide we have created that outlines every specific criterion for every ingredient we use. As an example, when it comes to sweeteners, we only ever use unrefined organic coconut sugar, raw unfiltered honey and maple syrup in everything we make at Hu. For all the meat that we serve, we are very strict about making sure that that animal ate the way it was supposed to eat: no GMOS, grass-fed, grass-finished for cows, wild fish, etc. You get the idea.
4. By far my favorite part of Hu Kitchen is the mashbar ™. Genius idea! Can you tell me a little more about the mashbar™ and how it came to be?
That was all Jordan! He needed a snack solution because he refused to eat frozen yogurt or “health bars.” He would go to Whole Foods and simply grab ingredients for a snack – almond butter, berries, cacao nibs, chia seeds, coconut shreds, honey, etc. He would just throw it all together, mix it up, and that was that. Pretty humble beginnings for such a runaway success!
5. I know it's hard to play favorites but do you have a favorite item on the Hu Kitchen menu?
It has to be the House-Cured Bacon, Organic Egg and Kale Sandwich on our Grain-Free Hu Bread. No, wait, the Dairy-Free Cauliflower Puree. Actually, maybe the Organic Baked Grain-Free Chicken Tenders. No, it’s our Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa Chocolate Bar. Having a hard time with this one – can we move on?
6. Any future plans you can share for Hu Kitchen?
Right now, we are just focusing on getting Hu Kitchen to be the experience we want it to be. We are also about to start selling our chocolate bars and kale chips online and in other retail venues. From there, we will see. Our mission is to change the way humans think about and eat food, so we obviously have big plans to expand as much as we can to achieve that goal. One step at a time, though. We want to make sure we get this one exactly right first.
7. Lastly, if you were going on a dream winter vacation where would you go and what five essentials would you bring with you?
Right now, I’m very into a Montana winter escape. Dog-sledding, winter sports, cozy cabin vibe with lots of time spent reading by the fire. Five Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa Chocolate Bars – no question.