Photo of Chef Paul Buchanan courtesy of Dave Anderson

Chefs Collaborative: How did Primal Alchemy come about?

Chef Paul Buchanan: After years of working for top restaurants, hotels and catering companies, I ventured out on my own 10 years ago to start Primal Alchemy Catering. The name came about because I like to cook ‘close to the food’ with respect to ingredients and sourcing. Primal meaning first and Alchemy, transformation… cooking is the first science of man.  You could say “turning food into gold”! As in delicious I guess…

CC: What is your favorite dish to prepare?

PB: I love to cook fish, so anytime I prepare a fish dish I am happy. Currently I like a Pacific Northwest Native American dish called Potlatch Salmon with grilled corn salsa, red quinoa, apricot and lime oil…and I only use fish outlined by sustainable guidelines, such as Seafood for the Future.

CC: How do you renew your inspiration to cook?

PB: Going to the farmers market inspires me seasonally, my daughter inspires me to cook healthfully, reading books and talking with other chefs who share techniques inspire me to experiment. Ultimately I am most inspired by quality ingredients and the challenge of staying authentic to whatever menu I am creating.

CC: How do you connect with the people that supply you with your food?

PB: I am continually making closer connections with my local food shed. Farmer’s Markets are easy, but proteins can be much more challenging. We are working with several small local farmers who can provide us with naturally raised pigs, lamb and beef. Facebook has been a big help in sharing information with other locavores.  I even have a local high school Ag program raising pigs for my charcuterie.

CC: We noticed on your Facebook that you were urban farming some carrots. Do you look to mostly non-traditional sources for ingredients?

Photo courtesy of Dave Anderson

PB: We love urban farming and I am very proud of this year’s carrot crop. I like to expose people to ingredients they may not have seen before like Romanesco, purple carrots, Lamb Tongue, or Crosnes. I like some simple classic ingredients too but I like to surprise people both with taste and the visual experience.

CC: Your website says that you cook for two to two thousand. How do you keep sustainability in your menu as the number of people you are serving increases?

PB: We give advance notice to our farmers when we have large events and we use several different ones for different ingredients. For instance, for the TED Conference we use greens from The Growing Experience, a local urban farm right here in Long Beach.  The most difficult high volume is proteins like beef, lamb, and especially pork. It is not as profitable as using commodity meats but we believe it is worth it to source the best quality in responsibly-raised meats that we can. Seafood is fairly easy to source and we stay in close contact with Andrew and David at the Long Beach Aquariums “Seafood for the Future” program to share their information on sustainable sources of seafood.

CC: Everyone loves a pampering meal, but what’s your favorite “street food” and why?

PB: I love Al Pastor Tacos from a tiny little place in the middle of a parking lot here in town. At our new kitchen we are hoping to serve some street food dishes from a take away window starting this summer. Some delicious but a bit more healthy street food maybe. One of my favorites will be Red Thai Curry Shrimp over Black Japonica Rice.

CC: With a restaurant, hours, as long as they may be, are somewhat fixed but with catering this isn’t necessarily the case. How do you maintain a good balance of work and personal time?

PB: My wife helps me with some elements of the business so I see her fairly often. Since I can set my own schedule to some extent, I make it a priority to spend quality time with my daughter that starts everyday by packing her lunch and sitting down to a good breakfast together. We eat as many meals together as we can.

Photo of Chef Paul courtesy of Dave Anderson

CC: If you weren’t cooking what would you be doing?

When I was 12 years old I wanted to be an underwater demolitions expert but now that I have more sense…If I wasn’t catering I would be an advocate for children’s health. I would be teaching nutrition and good eating habits to kids and make every effort possible to improve the quality of food that they are fed in schools.  Actually, I do quite a bit of that anyway, all of my volunteer time is spent on improving food for kids.

CC: What in your life has taught you the most about food?

PB: My own curiosity to explore and hanging out with other chefs…we like to get together and cook, always learning.  Travel is good too, nothing like finding some cool food or ingredients in a far-away place.

CC: What advice can you give for someone who is looking to incorporate sustainability into their business?

PB: Ask others in your area what sustainable foods they source, hang out at farmer’s markets, get onto Facebook or the internet in general and start typing in the sustainable items in your area that you are looking for. Partner with a farmer or farmers to grow vegetables or raise livestock for you.

CC: Why are you a member of Chefs Collaborative?

PB: I have been a member of Chefs Collaborative for years because I support the ideals of sustainability and chefs sharing information on the green effort in their businesses. Chefs Collaborative is a repository and distribution center for sustainable knowledge.

Grilled Sardines, Fennel Citrus Salad; photo courtesy of Dave Anderson

CC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

PB: Every chef can do their part no matter how small to help the world pollute a little less, recycle a little more, buy a more sustainable fish or meat product, and feed their guests a little better. Chefs Collaborative helps with information to do all those things and more.