Chicken, pizza, grilled cheese, hot dogs, and burgers. Like many Americans, I know these five food groups very well. I was one of those kids who’d sit at the table for an hour trying to force down fish and vegetables my mom made for dinner. Fortunately though, taste buds change, I quit being a stubborn jerk, and I moved to an amazing food city. What’s never changed though is my search for the most delicious and well-crafted versions of my childhood street food diet.
On my first trip to the Melrose Place Farmer’s Market, I entered from the East side where Orlando intersects with Melrose. I wasn’t expecting a meal, just some fruits and vegetables to cook later. A red, chicken-shaped sign at one of the first stands caught my eye. Behind a display case full of pastries and egg tarts was Jesse Furman, the head chef and founder of Free Range. He was preparing a cabbage and jalapeno mixture in an industrial sized metal bowl while tending to a tiny fryer. I asked him what he was making, and with a huge smile he responded, “It’s our chicken sandwich!” I already knew I wanted one, but I asked what kind of sauce he used, because really, that’s why I eat sandwiches. “My homemade stone-ground honey mustard.” Yup, gimme that.
The sandwich is phenomenal, my favorite chicken sandwich in L.A. Tempura-fried chicken, honey mustard, and a crunchy vinegar slaw contrasts with a super-soft specially made bun from a local bakery. Jesse calls it the “bastard American version of a banh mi and a torta.” The sandwich is the perfect example of what he’s trying to accomplish with Free Range, “To challenge L.A. with some comforting street food that also feels like a high quality dining experience.” It’s just the beginning of a large menu of items that Jesse handcrafts every week. He uses the freshest local and organic ingredients, including Mary’s Free Range Chicken and free range eggs from East L.A. In addition to the weekly staples – chicken sandwich, egg tarts, and pastries – the menu includes homemade soda, seasonal jams and preserves, veggie sandwiches, potato chips, salads, and biscuits with honeycomb butter. You can enjoy his chicken fried or grilled, on a bun, biscuit or salad.
Jesse’s had lifelong experience in various culinary ventures. He grew up in Manhattan where his father invested in restaurants, and after college, Jesse was integral in the start-up of the ice cream shop Milk on Beverly. While he never attended culinary school, 14-hour macaroon cooking sessions at Milk and bartending at Red Medicine in Beverly Hills earned him experience and trade techniques. In the summer of 2011, he began experimenting with chicken at his friend’s house, trying every batter possible. Four months and countless recipes later, he decided that tempura provided the flavor and lightness he needed. “All of my ingredients, pots, and mini Target fryer were heaped up in my bedroom until it was time for the farmer’s market. Every Sunday I opened my diorama of a restaurant, my little shoebox.”
One year later, Jesse moved to a professional kitchen that affords him the space to concoct new recipes for the farmer’s market and catering events. He can accommodate small parties as well as large corporate events of well over 100 people. The Free Range catering menu is filled with some of Jesse’s latest creations such as falafel and pita, a grilled chicken sandwich, winter quinoa salad, and lettuce & avocado salad. As a seasonal treat, Free Range is teaming up with Eggslut and Coolhaus to offer a special Super Bowl Catering Menu, full of their take on game day classics. You can check that menu out below for the February 3 “holiday.”