Zak Wallace (Photo by Kin Evans)

Food Forethought is a new Q&A feature with local chefs, mixologists, servers and restaurateurs. 

Zak Wallace is General Manager of Local Green Atlanta. A couple nights week, he is the outside vendor providing supplying the food to complement beers at Monday Night Brewery’s game nights. He’s on a mission to provide healthier quick food options to communities that need it most.

Why did you get into eating healthy in the first place? Was it necessity, or driven by your relationships, or just an interesting side project for general self-improvement?
It’s hard to pinpoint one motivation. The change actually began when I met my wife in ’06, when I was over 300 pounds. She would question my eating choices and ask “how is this even an option” as I would pull into a drive-thru, which began my ten-year journey on the search of discovering and balancing a lifestyle and my eating choices with the responsibilities and demands of travel. It wasn’t until an extended trip to San Francisco that I would discover “my healthy” in whole foods that connected with my Southern-eclectic palate that was not only healthy, but I actually knew what I was eating.

Most people think eating healthy means giving up our comfort foods, but with Local Green Atlanta it’s more of a substitution game. What are some of your favorite substitutions?
In our wild albacore tuna, we substitute mayonnaise for Greek yogurt. Of course I’ve substituted almond milk for all dairy. I would have to say my favorite is Daiya vegan cheese on our pizza and our Slim Shady egg white sandwich. The health benefit of all of these substitutes is maintaining a low cholesterol intake, which can prevent high blood pressure and hypertension.

Whats the difference between how you cook at home versus at work? Do you use your own kitchen as a lab, or save experiments for your partnership with Monday Night Brewing’s kitchen?
Ninety percent of our menu at local green comes from dishes I created in my kitchen at home. I would have my friends over to sample my creations and they would have the same response that I felt personally with my food. So I kept it going and bought it to the city.

Kitchens are an intense atmosphere. What does your kitchen sound like? Is it deadly silent, does somebody pick a radio station or playlist, or do you just fling witty banter?
We are definitely a playlist kitchen. We released a playlist on Apple Music entitled “Local Green Atlanta vol. 1” The theme of it is 70’s vibes with songs from Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder to Freddie Hubbard. You should look it up; it’s an amazing ride.

Your work experience revolves around both food and music. How are those different creative enterprises, and how are they similar?
I find the creative experiences more similar than different in that they both really start with a vibe. Eating healthy means shopping healthy and produce sections are some of the most colorful, vibrant experiences. It’s like art and it’s a spiritual process. You’re hand-selecting your fruits and vegetables, down to rinsing them and slicing them to be prepared for a meal for someone’s consumption. As with music, it’s finding a beat that speaks to you, then eventually to the consumer.

Why Monday Night Brewing? Where do you get inspiration for partnerships? Do you study pop-ups or particular chefs, certain social media or magazines?
My cheat sheet in everything I do is intuition and instinct. The moment I stepped foot in Monday Night Brewing I knew it was the type of establishment I wanted to position our brand alongside. They have a great team over there and their premise for encouraging human interaction is similar to Local Green Atlanta’s. We’re both all about contributing to the experience.

It can be hard to eat with one hand and participate in Monday Night Brewing’s game night with the other. How do you keep plates manageable so as not to destroy somebody’s precious childhood board game?
We are a quick serve so the majority of our menu items are handheld, leaving you flexible to play your games and rotate from food to brew if need be – unless you’re playing Twister.

What’s the relationship between healthy eating and reasonable drinking? Don’t all those wonderful beers cancel out the smart entree I ordered?
It’s actually damage control. Calories are in everything edible, especially everything we like. Its about balancing our daily intake and being sure to not waste unnecessarily when you can find the same satisfaction, without eating processed meats and fried foods, while you’re drinking. Our menu offerings are filling and taste divine. It satisfies your hunger without leaving you feeling sluggish.

If I want to be at the cutting-edge of healthy eating right now, whats the news? Is there some new technique or ingredient starting to make the rounds? Whats going to be trending in a minute?
Anything new in food is reason for alarm for me. I like to stick to the old-fashioned, fish and plant-based regimen: wild caught fish only and very minimal dairy (yogurt) and poultry (egg whites), no beef, no pork and the rest fruits, grains and veggies. A lot of money is being invested in vegan production, but just be mindful of the soy and sodium.

You can find Zak Wallace on social media at @localgreenatlanta.


Megan Volpert

Megan Volpert is the author or editor of over a dozen books on popular culture, including two Lambda Literary Award finalists and an American Library Association honoree.