This Michelin starred chef opened an upscale meat-free Mexican restaurant in the midst of the pandemic, proving us that plant-based diets can be delicious.
"Chefs have a very powerful virtue to shift the public to understand what’s delicious.”
- Justin Bazdarich -
A Kansas City native, Bazdarich moved to New York in 2001 to enroll at the French Culinary Institute. After graduating he went to work with the most renowned Chef Jean-Georges and spent several years opening some 15 restaurants around the globe. About 10 years ago, Chef Bazarich decided to follow his own trajectory by opening several restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Oxomoco. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity for Justin to educate himself on sustainable food systems as he enrolled himself back in college online, at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. After learning more about the environmental impact of meat production and realizing how much better he felt eating more plant-based foods, Bazdarich opened Xilonen. This new plant-based eatery marks a new direction for this mission driven Chef who wants to promote more plant based cooking and sustainable practices.
Welcome Justin to Chefs for Impact!
By Justin Bazdarich as told to Chefs for Impact
When and how did the idea of opening a plant forward restaurant come from?
“Over the last few years, I became increasingly invested in sustainability and plant-based cooking has been in my mind for a couple of years now. When my wife was pregnant, she had an aversion to meat, so we stopped eating animal products for a while. I was surprised how much better I felt, so when my son was born it continued. I realized that I wasn’t interested in eating meat any longer, nor excited to serve it. The ethical part of seeing animals slaughtered also bothered me. It’s also the way I want to try to eat, for my own personal health. This is how Xilonen opened its doors last December.”
Did the Covid-19 outbreak accelerate your decision?
“It did have an impact on the fact that I’ve decided to use this time to educate myself on sustainability. When the shutdown happened, I went back to school at Arizona State University where I studied Industrial design a few years back. It’s been so interesting to apply what I’ve learned in food sustainability towards the restaurants. I try to apply what I’ve learnt to harness the perspective that the food I cook has a positive impact on the planet and our health, while being very tasty. I have not always been a fan of plant-based cooking. When I realized that a human body only needs 8oz of animal protein a week, it motivated me to cook away from meat. I believe Chefs have a very powerful power to shift the public to understand what’s delicious. That was where this mission took off. I wanted to show to the population that this type of food isn’t boring and can be even more delicious and accessible.”
What is your tip for a Chef who wants to start having a more sustainable approach? Where or what to start with?
“I hope to inspire fellow chefs to cook more plant-based food. But to get started, one quick fix that can be done is to start cooking within the seasons. Go shopping at the farmers market, get to know what’s local, and meet with your farmers. Second, you have to look at your plastic use and try to reduce it. These things already have a major impact.”
Learn more: https://www.xilonen.earth/