In life, boldness can be a virtue. For Aaron Choi of Girl & Dug Farms, it’s also a business model. The owner of a 6.5-acre organic operation in north San Diego County, Choi isn’t afraid to turn up at kitchens unannounced, which might explain how he went from a little-known second-generation farmer to collaborating with some of the top chefs in L.A. in less than a year. “He showed up with a cooler and 40 containers of the most pristine minigreens and flowers,” says chef and co-owner Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon, recalling his unexpected meeting with Choi in 2017. “It was love at first sight.”
Since then, Fox and chef de cuisine Andy Doubrava have collaborated with Choi on growing uncommon vegetables and herbs: gherkins for fresh cornichons, ice plant, and more. Choi is also experimenting with orange Badger Flame beets, Andean tubers known as ocas, and a little-known French dandelion called pissenlit, which may show up at Fox’s upcoming restaurant, Birdie G’s. “When Jeremy first asked for it,” Choi laughs, “I thought he was saying ‘piss on leeks.’ ”
Choi’s enthusiasm and exactitude—he’ll gladly grow to chefs’ specifications in his climate-controlled greenhouses—have quickly made him a favorite among the city’s most creative culinarians. As Nyesha Arrington of Santa Monica’s Native puts it: “It’s difficult to find produce that’s different and compelling, and he brings the full spectrum.”
The Girl & Dug Farms Fan Club
» Andy Doubrava garnishes the restaurant’s signature thrice-cooked yam dish with the leaves of Girl & Dug’s highly salinic ice plant.
» Nyesha Arrington’s grilled Flannery beef dish uses Choi’s Thumbelina carrots from root to leaves. The tops are made into a zesty chimichurri, the bottoms are brined and finished on the grill, and the peels are fermented—a triple-carrot punch.
» The seasonal first course at Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama’s kaiseki restaurant, might pair Girl & Dug’s tart butterfly sorrel with roasted carrot puree and scallop tartare.
» Choi grows chocolate mint to a specific size for chef Dave Beran, who uses it in a tom yum-inspired soup. Beran estimates that he uses Choi’s produce in 13 of his 21 dishes.
» Jessica Largey throws Choi’s citrus fern into her restaurant’s sturgeon dish, which also features maitake mushrooms, yarrow leaves, and yuzu zest, to reinforce the dish’s flavors.
» As part of his tasting menu, Aitor Zabala pairs the seeds of Girl & Dug’s jelly melon cucumber with organic caviar from Russia. “You’re getting the seeds of the fish and the seeds of the land,” he says.
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