Mudhen Meat And Greens Executive Chef Suki Otsuki Talks The Farm-To-Table Movement And Why It Wasn’t Such A Big Deal For Her Spot To Become Whole30-Compliant.

Welcome to The Quickie, our new series featuring a short ‘n sweet, quick ‘n dirty interview with a local small business owner, chef or creator.

Lean, green and clean is the name of the game at Mudhen Meat and Greens, the healthy lifestyle-focused restaurant that sits adjacent to the Dallas Farmers Market.

And not only is it’s executive chef Suki Otsuki’s job to make sure Mudhen stays competitive by crafting tasty offerings to the health-conscious, but but it’s also her job to educate curious diners on what the farm-to-table movement is all about.

About two years into that task, Otsuki’s certainly proven herself up to it, having earned rave reviews, perhaps chief among them being named the best farm-to-table restaurant in Dallas by the Food Network.

With all the sweet and savory options that Dallas has to offer these days, we caught up with Otsuki to ask her a few questions about how Mudhen is able to cut through all that noise.

First off, can you give us the Mudhen backstory?
The development of Mudhen started with a vision for a concept, and then it really evolved as we got into it. We knew we wanted to do something huge that would not only be interesting but that would play to a culture and movement of healthful food. [Owner] Shannon [Wynne] wanted a menu that was in line with his ideals and personal diet, limiting sugars and carbohydrates. For me, it was important to create a menu that focused on honest food that is delicious without sacrifice, and with a goal of honoring guests with allergies and dietary restrictions — because in a city of meat and potatoes, it isn’t always easy to be a vegan or have gluten intolerance.

What might folks not know about you and/or the restaurant?
As a chef and a person, I am a funny mix of an exercise-loving, clean-eating yogi and a junkaholic with a crazy sweet tooth. It’s about balance, which is why I am even more driven to create a menu that shows that, with quality ingredients, eating well doesn’t have to mean diet food.

What do you cook for yourself/eat at home?
If we’re being honest, I live and breathe Mudhen. By the time I get home, the kitchen is not the first place I’m rushing to spend time in. My fiancé Steven often cooks for me, which is so decadent when you spend the entire day cooking for others. He makes an amazing rendition of a shepherd’s pie that I really love!

OK, then away from Mudhen and your home, what’s your favorite place to eat out in Dallas?
I’m always interested in checking out the new kids on the block, and one place I’ve been frequenting recently is Commissary. They are really doing some amazing things with in-house curing and dry-aging with high-quality ingredients and traditional techniques.

What’s the latest/coolest/most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
I just had the privilege of collaborating with Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garret Oliver for a four-course beer pairing at The Flying Saucer on Lake Ray Hubbard. That was different from my focus at Mudhen as it was a little more of a splurge-type dining event, and it was really exciting to execute. We try to collaborate on all kinds of fun events like this, which keeps the wheels spinning. As of right now, I am working on late winter menu changes for Mudhen to keep things exciting and seasonal for our guests. I like to find tasty ingredients and build menu items around them with a goal of staying away from trends or gimmicks and just letting the food speak for itself.

OK, but speaking of trends, can you tell me about the motivation behind Mudhen’s Whole30-compliant menu?
We make every effort to be accommodating to dietary needs, and many of our dishes are not far from being Whole30-compliant as is. Since Whole30 is such a popular “New Year’s Cleanse” diet, we felt it was natural to offer program-compliant meals at the beginning of the year. A lot of our guests are fitness-, health- and nutrition-conscious, so offering them food they want — that isn’t boring — is just an extension of our regular menu.

I think it’s pretty genius, personally. Beyond the late winter menu you already mentioned, what’s next for Mudhen?
This spring, the amount of available organic food grown onsite will greatly surpass what we have grown in prior seasons. Our experienced local grower, Kim Farmer, has been grooming our growing spaces for maximum veggie and herb production. We’ll be pulling ingredients right from our gardens and greenhouse — and bringing them straight to your plate. And the really neat thing is I have the opportunity to work with her and request specific and unique items that she will grow just for us!

Image courtesy of Suki Otsuki. Know another food business worth highlighting in this space? Message foodbitch! Like a good cover band, she takes requests.

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