When Chefs Nick Wiseman and Ronen Tenne opened their hummus shop Little Sesame in Washington, D.C. in 2015, they wanted their restaurant’s foundation to have a very different philosophy than some of the New York City kitchens they’d cooked in over the years. They wanted to create a place that felt more grounded, that would enable them to build connections, explore new flavors and responsibly source their food, so they built one key ingredient into their business philosophy: travel.
Tenne grew up in Tivon, a small town in Israel outside the port city of Haifa, while Wiseman is a native of D.C. The concept for Little Sesame was a tribute to both their heritages, inviting a city that never stops moving to slow down and experience the vibrant, authentic flavors of Israeli hummus shops. And, when they’re not busy serving crafted hummus bowls, pita wraps and seasonal salatim and mezze, the two frequently venture from D.C. in their robin’s egg blue 1978 Volkswagen Bus to find inspiration for fresh, bold and new flavors across the U.S.
“The road trip concept [for Little Sesame] came when we found out the old pop-up we had was going to close and we had a couple of months before our new shop would open,” said Tenne. “Our concept was to go on the road and trying to do as much collaboration with people who cook in our same style and have the same attitude [towards] food that we have.”
Little Sesame is a plant-centric restaurant, so this summer’s road trip was a journey out West to see where the plants that fuel their business are sourced.
“We wanted to see where the food we serve is grown, who’s making it and how it’s being made,” Wiseman said. “We wanted to meet [the food], [get] our hands dirty in the soil and learn what it is [like] to farm and bring that produce directly to the city.”
Tenne and Wiseman’s first stop was Clear Lake Organic Farms in Fort Benton, Montana. Run by longtime friend and organic farmer Casey Bailey, this 5,000-acre, sustainability-focused family farm supplies the chickpeas that fuel Little Sesame’s creamy hummus.
“My connection to hummus is mostly eating it for most of my life,” Tenne said. “But always as a chef I think there is a big thing with being able to see the food circle of the product you’re using and understanding that what we use as our main ingredient, is what [Bailey] uses to fix the soil between his crops. Adding this element gives me a new perspective on the beauty of the chickpeas.”
After passing through Portland and Tillamook, Oregon, to host a collaborative dinner with Tusk—a Portland-based restaurant—one of Wiseman and Tenne’s last stops was to spend a day with Life Lab, a nonprofit in Santa Cruz, Calif. For the last 52 years, Life Lab has provided a rich, influential program that uses gardens as classrooms to connect kids with where food comes from and how it enriches our bodies and teaches children tools for developing healthy eating habits at an early age.
“To land here in this training pool oasis of a space with the kids was so grounding for us,” said Wiseman. “It brought us back to why we do what we do, which is about connecting people to good food, and creating this community of people who really care about good food.”
In total, Wiseman, Tenne and their bright blue VW bus traversed the Great Plains, Badlands, Redwoods and Big Sur on their expedition. They charted more than 4,000 miles through 14 states, hosted six dinners, built two pop-up kitchens, swam in one ocean, five rivers and one lake, and made countless new friends along the way.
“We want future generations to have access to the same thrill of discovery with food that we’ve been so lucky to chase on our own travels,” Wiseman said. “By traveling, we live our mission of creating a community of eaters savoring authentic flavors, craving memorable experiences and working to leave the world a better place.”