Davin Waite is a man on a mission to create a more sustainable food system. With a focus on sourcing locally and reducing waste, this Oceanside-based executive chef is part of a growing movement to make a positive impact on the environment.
For Waite, the biggest obstacle to change is fear of doing it wrong. He believes that any effort at all is better than no effort, and that even small changes can lead to big improvements over time. “Finding what is right” for individuals is key to making sustainable choices, he said. Small changes, such as eating a plant-based meal once a week or choosing a smaller portion of fish with a larger portion of plants, can make a significant impact.
“It all starts with an idea. If you’re asking questions, you’ll think ‘What can I do with this? Should I throw this away?’ Then search for the answers, play around with it. Screw some stuff up along the way and learn from those mistakes,” he said.
From Passion to Purpose: A Culinary Journey
Waite has always loved food and has been cooking for as long as he can remember. Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub is his and his wife Jessica’s first solo restaurant venture. They are drawn to built-in activism that comes with their business (such as zero waste and healthy eating) and the opportunity to interact with their community.
“The restaurant business is the perfect platform for that to do crazy things like feed the customer stuff that makes them live longer, [even though] that’s not the business model that typically makes money out there,” said Waite.
A typical day on the job involves visiting all three of his restaurants (Wrench & Rodent, Shoots, and The Plot), checking on the crew, and spreading inspiration. He also works on improving the menus and making sure everything runs smoothly, which involves solving logistical challenges. He jokingly refers to his position as “senior zookeeper” and describes his job as a puzzle that he enjoys solving.
According to Waite, eating locally sourced food, building relationships with farmers and fishers, reducing plastic use, and expanding diet beyond the same few plants and animals are key ingredients for better quality food and a more sustainable future.
“A lot of what we eat now is more about distribution and convenience than it is about flavor,” said Waite. “Eating and sourcing closer to home kicks off relationships with farmers and fisher people, which is a lot more meaningful. There’s more love in it, if you have love up and down the supply chain, the result is better food all around.”
Total Utilization: Reducing Waste and Enhancing Flavors
Another part of Waite’s sustainability model takes a “total utilization” approach to cooking, which he says leads to perfectly blended flavors while reducing environmental and health footprints. He aims to use every piece of the fish and reduce waste in his operations.
“If you kill something, you should eat everything, you know? I’m not an all-out vegan, but I do prefer taking a Japanese or a Native American approach to respecting what you kill,” said Waite.
Waite’s inspiration for his culinary ideas comes from travel, working with other chefs, and surrounding himself with people that challenge him. Looking to the past, other cultures, and learning from both good and bad examples provides him with insight into creating new dishes.
Creating Plant-Based Delights
Expanding his plant-based restaurant, The Plot, in a way that appeals to everyone takes a lot of Waite’s current focus. “The challenge is to get people to try it for the first time,” he says. “Gaining the guest’s trust is critical.”
To achieve this, Waite and his team focus on marketing and storytelling. While the menu reads “hot chickën sando,” umlaut clues guests that the dish doesn’t include meat in “a silent shout-out to Motorhead.” They make sure their plant-based dishes are approachable and tie them back to some form of comfort food, so “there’s something in each dish that any guest can connect with.”
All Aboard The Brine Box
Waite has drawn inspiration from train and railroad dining car cookbooks for his upcoming project called The Brine Box, which is set to open in late spring or early sum as a small snack shack at the end of the Oceanside Pier. It will serve local fish dishes and vegetable-heavy sides, using byproducts of the fish to make sauces (such as an anchovy aioli made from bloodline).
Despite the challenges of working in a small kitchen, Davin is excited to bring his vision to life. He wants to create a restaurant that has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
“Where else can you hang a fishing poll out the back door while you work?” asked Waite.
North County Flavors, Community Cheers
Waite was born and has spent most of his life in North County, except for two years spent in Santa Barbara where he received culinary training from an experienced Japanese chef. His passion for culinary arts brought him back to the region. He loves San Diego’s unique identity and the way the residents do things, even if he says San Diego County “gets less credit than it deserves.” Waite attributes much of his success to the support of the North County community, which rallied around its restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You guys are awesome. I love it here because of all of you. Thank you for all the support through the last couple years. Let’s not forget that we take care of each other in San Diego, and that’s what makes us special.”
Read the story covering John Franklin, Mayor of the City of Vista here for more content.
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About the Author
Caitlyn Canby loves to discover and share people’s stories. She has her bachelor’s degree in Communications, Print Journalism with over 8 years of journalism experience. An Escondido native, she just moved back from Catalina Island to North County with her husband and two children to the town of Fallbrook. Caitlyn enjoys collaborating on projects as Marketing and Events Coordinator at SDNEDC, traveling, and exploring new restaurants, venues, experiences, and cultures.