When bitten into, a falafel should reveal itself to be bright green. It should be pan-fried, not deep-fried, and made with chickpeas that were soaked overnight, not chickpea flour. Few chefs cook falafel like this, and some use ingredients that make it too dry. Others deep-fry it. Both deviate from the way the food is traditionally prepared.
Local chef Michael Schoudel is aware of this.
Schoudel, the owner of Conscious Kitchen, a food-delivery service based in Sea Cliff, developed his own authentic recipe for falafel without cutting corners or accounting for expediency. Consequentially, since opening his business the falafel plate is one of Conscious Kitchen’s most popular dishes.
“There is a thought process behind everything I do and cook,” Schoudel said. “I have very high standards for this business, and nothing goes out of the kitchen that I’m not proud of.”
Like how he makes every sauce and salad, Schoudel built Conscious Kitchen from scratch. He is supported by a small team of people who help him in and out of the kitchen, each of whom cherish him as a leader and teacher.
“Michael is one of those people who ‘talks the talk and walks the walk,’” said Lesly Steinman, a co-worker and friend of Schoudel’s for over 10 years. “When he believes in something he’s all in and works tirelessly to make it happen.”
Donning a black apron and tapping his pen against his clipboard, Schoudel buzzed around his kitchen. The self-taught chef referred back to his list of orders for the day before chopping into radishes he purchased from Young’s Farm earlier that morning.
“I use the best quality ingredients that are as locally sourced as possible,” he said. “During the peak season, I work with small-scale farmers. I talk directly with the people who grow the food so I can design my menu around what is most fresh.” This personal connection to his ingredients is something Schoudel strives to translate to his customers.
Customers place orders online and are kept up-to-date through Conscious Kitchen’s email list and social media accounts. Schoudel developed Conscious Kitchen as delivery-only because he believes delivery is the future, and meeting customers one-on-one facilitates personal conversations.
“I have a unique exchange with my customers. They give me feedback, and it helps me steer my menu and business,” Schoudel said. “No matter how much Conscious Kitchen grows, that will always stay the same.”
When he finished slicing and dicing the radishes, Schoudel held on to their leafy tops, utilizing a composter to dispose of his leftovers. In his kitchen, nothing goes to waste. To stay sustainable, Schoudel uses recyclable packaging and throws away little leftover ingredients. He brings vegetable scraps to the hens at the farm he gets his eggs from, and other materials are utilized by Jeff’s Custom Landscaping, an organic landscaping company based in Glen Head.
Schoudel’s customers take pride knowing that when they purchase food from Conscious Kitchen they are supporting his ecological endeavors and making the Earth that much cleaner.
Since starting Conscious Kitchen, Schoudel has met many people in his community whose ideals about food and its relationship with the environment perfectly align. He draws customers in on Saturday mornings in the summer when he sets up at the Sea Cliff Farmers Market. He explains each dish with vivid detail, so much so that customer’s mouths begin to water before they’ve even taken a bite. He asks of their dietary restrictions and shapes the conversation around each individual’s needs. He exemplifies how much he cares about his clientele and smiles when they show excitement about purchasing a dish.
Amy Peters, founder of the Sea Cliff Farmers Market, is grateful to host Schoudel’s business. “Having Conscious Kitchen at the market means a tremendous amount to me,” she said. “I am a staunch advocate of promoting food producers who do the right thing for the planet and for people, and Michael does exactly that.”
Schoudel spends seven days a week in the kitchen on top of fulfilling deliveries Sunday through Thursday, but this in no way slows him down. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics, building upon his bachelor’s in music composition from Binghamton University. He accredits his artistic side, and his arithmetic way of thinking, to Conscious Kitchen’s success. “I view what I do as a perfect synergy between my creative background and my math background,” he said. “I love that my business invites me to use both sides of my brain.”
Checking his watch, Schoudel meticulously plated the falafel to ensure its accompanying beet hummus was visible underneath a mountain of greens, and that each plate had just the right amount of quinoa. As he put the lid on his masterpiece, Schoudel reflected on his hopes for Conscious Kitchen, which, though once a dream of his, is now a reality.
“Conscious Kitchen is the answer to a lot of current problems, and a combination of things I genuinely care about,” he said. “Above all, I want people to be mindful of how food impacts their health, the planet and animals. If this business can emphasize that, I think we’ll make progress in the food industry and beyond.”