Joan Vogel was born with a frog's leg in her mouth. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio with frequent visits to New York City, her father Jack introduced her to Steak Tartare, Skate Wing, Oysters Rockefeller and crème brûlée all before the age of 10. It was this 50-year love affair with food and not the typical formula for culinary success that would lead Joan to create an award-winning line of citrus-flavored specialty foods and condiments called The Ojai Cook. Dubbed “The Shopping Cart Chef,” Joan has not only been able to carry The Ojai Cook to million dollar sales, but is also accredited with developing the images, concepts and menus of gourmet products and restaurants industry wide.
While Joan’s passion for fabulous food has always been her cause, America didn’t always follow suit. A natural entertainer from her years in London and New York, Joan’s friends egged her on to write down her recipes though she gave them away as gifts. It was her move to Southern California in the late 70s that opened her eyes to a huge shift in the supermarket image: They were growing more sophisticated. Gourmet products were all the new rage, and West Coast cuisine was living in the fast lane with the rise of Spago, Michael’s, Campanile, Zuni Café, Chez Panisse, and Alice Waters’ pioneering organic and sustainable food movement.
Surrounded by valleys of citrus in her new stomping grounds of Ojai Valley near Santa Barbara, Joan started to experiment with preparing simple meals with fresh ingredients that still satisfied her more discriminating tastes. Newly inspired by the supermarket transformation and her own backyard, The Ojai Cook came to life. The product line, led by citrus-flavored mayonnaises, nut mixes, and ‘Puckers,’ the lemon-pepper sourdough snack, can now be found at major retailers like Whole Foods and specialty stores nationwide. Soon after, she opened The Ojai Cook Culinary Center, a cooking school at Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center.
As the new millennium approached, Joan began to watch another transformation¾the emergence of the modern-day American family and a new kind of supermarket. There was a new culture of working moms, kids’ sports and after-school activities leaving much less time to prepare dinner from scratch. An abundance of higher quality, cleaner supermarket choices like sushi, ready-cooked chicken, arugula, brie and 10 kinds of fresh bread were available under the same roof. Urban communities were eager to embrace ready-made foods like The Ojai Cook and shortcuts that didn’t sacrifice flavor, sophistication or budget. The Shopping Cart Chef was born.
As the Shopping Cart Chef, Joan consults with restaurants in menu development, designs corporate image programs for specialty food companies, and develops products. Clients have run the gamut from private labels for Trader Joes and a brand re-haul for E. Waldo Ward & Son, to recipe development for a gourmet sausage company, juice bar and family restaurants. Her debut cookbook, so appropriately titled, 69 Quickies in the Kitchen, is a compilation of some of Joan’s favorite assemblies with one rule of thumb: build recipes off of convenient, pre-made yet healthy products that cut the cooking time down to mere minutes.
“We have arrived, been educated and love what we have discovered about food in everything from variety and freshness, to organic and sustainability, “ said Joan. “We just want it faster.”
Joan is showing food lovers of all breeds that food itself shouldn’t open your doors to the finer things in life – time should.