Fresh Out the Oven: 2 Compton Men are Preparing Gourmet Meals for the Hood.
For non-locals, Compton, California is most commonly associated with music or crime. In just the last year alone, it’s become a household name, thanks to the blockbuster success of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton and Dr. Dre’s Compton album. With artists like Jay Rock, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar all putting on for their city in major ways, the neighborhood south of Downtown Los Angeles has become an undeniably fertile breeding ground for great Hip-Hop, but for its local residents, Compton is much more than the headquarters for Rap. For them, it’s a place where children are born and raised, where big city dreams meet the struggles of life in a historically neglected American city. And, just like any town, there are incredible things happening within its streets, things that we may not hear about as loudly as we do the negative things, but they are incredible nonetheless. Enter: TrapKitchenLA.
Malachi Jenkins (“Spank”) and Roberto Arturo Smith have turned their Compton apartment into a local foodie’s haven, a place where homecooked, thoughtfully prepared meals can be picked up by neighbors who are eager to feed their families quality meals without having to shell out half a week’s paycheck on a restaurant. In Vice’s gastronomically focused “Munchies” column, writer Javier Cabral meets with the two young men, each of whom brings a set of unique talents to the parternship. Jenkins is a former student of well-renowned culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, while Smith has provided the headquarters for the operation. Together, they’ve opened their “trap kitchen,” an unassuming, off-the-beaten path destination which specializes in making a variety of foods to match the eclectic taste buds of his neighboring Angelenos. As Cabral writes, ” [Jenkins’] dishes are as diverse as his 36,000 Instagram followers. TrapKitchenLA makes only one dish a day and it can range from fajitas to broiled salmon, braised short ribs, chili, gumbo, or steak. He scours the local markets for his menus, including Mexican carnicerias, Vietnamese seafood markets, and Food 4 Less.”
In providing such a service in an area of Los Angeles that has often been viewed as a “food desert,” these two men are part of an inventive, proactive generation eager to utilize the skills and resources they already possess to better their community while making a profit. In today’s sharing economy, where we share everything from our cars to our apartments, the idea behind TrapKitchen is both ingenious and incredibly simple. But it arose out of less-than-ideal conditions, Cabral shares. As Jenkins tells it, “My mom was always at work, so me and my sister had to fend for ourselves. We had groceries, so I learned how to whip up ABC-123-type of simple meals out of just watching my grandma and mom cook.” Brilliantly, he was able to translate his cooking from something he did for his family to survive into something that feeds a larger family. “I feed the streets,” he says. “You don’t have to spend $50 or make a reservation for some asparagus and steak or lobster tail at a fancy restaurant. People out here are hungry, you know what I’m saying? They want to eat good food, too, so I feed them the same at a flat rate.”
Also incredible is the way the restaurant operates on a daily basis. Much of the communication about what is on the menu is done through Instagram, where Jenkins and others involved communicate directly with customers about placing orders. From reading, there seems to be a very open line of communication between merchant and client, and it’s done in such a way that other, prospective customers can really get a sense of the goodwill involved. Whether or not “Easy Bake” plays in the background while Jenkins constructs beautiful edible creations is not known, but one thing is clear. That food looks good.