Amy Lebrun makes nutritious veggies and curry with Cathy Thomas

The search for scrumptious dishes with nutritional density fuels chef Amy Lebrun’s culinary curiosity. In late 2020 she embraced a new challenge, one that she has mastered with enthusiasm and talent. Leaving her position as executive chef at Lido Bottle Works in Newport Beach, she became executive chef and culinary director of Costa Mesa’s Fermentation Farm, overseeing its three in-house kitchens: the hot bar, the cold fermenting kitchen, and the kombucha kitchen. 

Founded in 2014 by Dr. Yasmine Mason, D.C., of Huntington Beach, Fermentation Farm provides local, organic, and nutritious foods with the belief that “a healthy gut equals a healthy life.”

Along with the restaurant, there’s an impressive showcase of hand-crafted groceries with “Chef Amy” labeling in the grab-and-go retail shop. Jars and bottles line refrigerated cases, everything from handmade organic corn tortillas, to organic marinara, to organic pistachio pesto. There are several kinds of sauerkraut, as well as some of the most delicious kimchi on the planet. The long list goes on.

I was overjoyed when Lebrun agreed to join me in my kitchen and show me the step-by-step secrets to making her Roasted Brassicas with Fermented Red Curry Sauce. One picky restaurant critic I know proclaims the fermented red curry sauce as one of the few she has tasted in her career that gets a multistar rating. Lebrun describes the sauce with myriad attributes, saying that it is “fragrant, tangy, sour, and sweet yet spicy, and creamy, too.”

The made-in-house gochujang (red chile paste that is a savory, sweet, and spicy fermented condiment popular in Korean cooking) builds inviting umami to the mix.

At serving time, the pureed sauce forms a generous puddle in the bottom of a shallow bowl, while roasted vegetables mound on top. The colorful assortment of brassicas—two colors of cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, baby turnips, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts—steal the attention. A topping of coconut cashews adds a welcome texture contrast, while a garnish of cilantro, microgreens, and yellow gai lan (Chinese broccoli) flowers create a perfect finish.

Lebrun graduated from Huntington Beach High School where she played on the soccer team. After graduating from the culinary program at Orange Coast College, she had the opportunity to work her way up in the kitchens at Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. She cooked from the banquet kitchen to the Club Grill to the Dining Room, under the treasured mentorship of Dee Nguyen, who she credits with teaching her the importance of endurance.

The recipe follows for her glorious take on brassica veg, but I should mention here that the red curry sauce is sold to-go in glass jars at Fermentation Farm’s marketplace. And the dish is on the restaurant’s menu. Enjoy.

Fermentation Farm, 1125 Victoria St. Suite R, Costa Mesa

Vegetable Star: I love cauliflower, the textures raw or cooked are appealing. I can complement the flavor with a wide variety of ingredients.

Teaching Role: Culinary classes (at Fermentation Farm) are available with topics such as kombucha, bone broth, coconut yogurt, and intro to fermentation.

Restaurant Fav: Vientaine Lao Thai restaurant in Garden Grove. I love the lettuce wrap—crispy fried rice with ham and chiles—crunchy, fatty with fresh lime juice.

Ugly-Beauty Collector: I’m obsessed with vintage Pyrex. I have my mom’s wedding anniversary set with orange and yellow flowers. It’s so ugly, I love it.

Few know: I need a soundtrack to function. At 7 a.m., I ease in with Khruangbin, a three-piece instrumental band, then the funky beat of Caribbean electronic music at noon, working my way through to dinnertime with ’80s ballads.

Best cocktail: I’m into tangerine vodka gimlets made with freshly squeezed juice.

Chef Cathy Thomas Amy Lebrun Fermentation Farm Costa Mesa Roasted Brassicas Red Curry Sauce

Recipe by chef Amy Lebrun

Roasted Brassicas and Red Curry Sauce

Red Curry Sauce

1/2 cup avocado oil

1 large white onion, sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced

1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves

1/2 cup sliced fresh unpeeled ginger

1/2 cup sliced lemongrass (white and light green portion)

1 fresh jalapeno chile, sliced unseeded

1/2 cup gochujang

3 1/2 (13.5-ounces each) cans coconut milk

2 cups mirin

1/2 cup tamari

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Salt to taste, see cook’s notes

Coconut Cashews

1 cup shredded, unsweetened dried coconut 

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

3/4 teaspoon salt, see cook’s notes

4 cups raw cashews

2 tablespoons avocado oil

Brassica Vegetables

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, halved top to bottom

1/2 pound cauliflower florets, some white and some purple preferred

1/2 pound baby turnips, trimmed, cut in halves from top to bottom

1/2 pound broccoli florets

Avocado oil

1/2 pound cabbage, cut into thick wedges

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, see cook’s notes

Plating options: cilantro, microgreens, yellow flowers from Chinese broccoli (gai lan)

Cook’s notes: For seasoning, Chef Lebrun uses a triple sea salt blend that is made in-house using three sea salts: Brazilian Pedra do Sal,  Himalayan Pink Sea Salt and  Hawaiian Red Sea Salt. The salt blend is available for sale at Fermentation Farm. Brassica vegetables are part of the genus Brassicaceae, or mustard family. Brassicas are also categorized as cruciferous vegetables (Cruciferae), or members of the cabbage family. 

  1. For the sauce: In a large, deep pot add avocado oil. Place on medium heat and add onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, jalapeno, and gochujang. Stir to combine and sweat ingredients, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender; do not brown.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to simmer on high heat. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare cashews (see step #4).
  3. When curry mixture has simmered for 1 hour, puree it in batches so blender beaker is less than 3/4 full. In a high-speed blender, such as a Vitamix, puree until smooth; repeat with remaining sauce. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Taste and add salt if needed.
  4. For Coconut Cashews: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Using a small, electric spice grinder, grind coconut until finely ground, but don’t grind too long or it will turn into a paste. Place turmeric, salt, and coconut in large bowl; stir to combine.  Add cashews and oil; toss to mix. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet. Bake in middle of preheated oven for 28 minutes or until lightly toasted. Set aside.
  5. For vegetables: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips and broccoli with just enough avocado oil to lightly coat. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet and roast in preheated oven until slightly tender but still crisp. Meanwhile, heat some avocado oil in a large nonstick skillet and add cabbage wedges in single layer. Cook on medium-high until nicely charred on one side. Turn wedges with tongs and char on opposite sides. Remove and discard cores of cabbage and cut wedges into large bite-sized pieces. Toss with roasted vegetables when they are out of the oven. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  6. Ladle still-hot curry sauce into shallow bowls, adding a generous 1/2 cup to each. Add a generous cup of vegetables to each serving, mounding them up. Sprinkle with cashews, chopped cilantro, and microgreens (Lebrun uses micro brassicas). If available, pluck some yellow flowers from Chinese broccoli (gai lan) and add to the garnish. Serve.

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

Chef Cathy Thomas Amy Lebrun Fermentation Farm Costa Mesa Roasted Brassicas Red Curry Sauce
Chef Amy Lebrun (L) and Cathy Thomas (R).

Photo by Curt Norris.

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