Chef Spotlight: Ru Zhang

August 28, 2018

Foodnome helps ambitious chefs get their start, because high starting costs make it functionally impossible to break into the food industry.

“If I had my way, I could eat a different cuisine every night,” says Foodnome Chef Ru Zhang. Zhang grew up helping her parents in their Chinese restaurant after school, and was chastised for wanting to go out to eat when there was plenty of food at home. As an adult, Zhang wants to bring more variety into the Davis culinary scene through fresh ingredients and interesting spices.

“The more spice the better,” laughed Zhang, “I love Korean spices, Thai curry, jerk chicken seasoning, mixed with cinnamon and Mediterranean spice.”

For a recent Foodnome catering event for the organization Sustainable Living and Learning Communities, Zhang made meatless meatballs, open-faced tofu bahn mi, and fresh watermelon lemonade. The kitchen smelled like turmeric, chilies, and coriander as guests discussed a proposal to expand existing farming land at UC Davis.

Although Davis is located amidst miles of farmland, 20 minutes from the self-proclaimed “farm-to-fork capital” Sacramento, it is surprisingly hard to access fresh and interesting food. Three of the most central, profitable restaurants in town — Crepeville, Burgers and Brew, and El Toro Bravo — are all owned by one family. Of the new restaurants that have opened in the past five years, almost all are chains like Blondie’s, Halal Guys, and Habit Burger.

Ru’s Famous Jackfruit Sliders

Ru’s Famous Jackfruit Sliders

Zhang says this is due to high starting costs of entering the food business, and lack of accessible and affordable commissary kitchens. A commissary kitchen is a food safe kitchen that can be rented by multiple chefs to legally sell food. Chefs using commissary kitchens need to bring their own health permit, ship ingredients and food across town, and often plan the dates they want to rent months in advance. For a working single mom like Zhang, the costs and logistics coordination makes starting a food business incredibly difficult.

Foodnome provides an accessible platform for chefs to set up their own kitchens to meet health standards, then start to make a name for themselves at dinner parties, informal cafes, and catering events.

“I understand the need for regulation, but I really appreciate what Akshay is trying to do,” Zhang said, referring to Foodnome founder Akshay Prabhu. “From my perspective, as someone trying to do this for my career, it’s a great way to get started and build from there.”

For now, Ru Zhang is starting her own catering business for private dinner parties, small weddings, and events. You can find out more at chefrucatering.com, and contact Zhang at [email protected].