Like many Angelenos, Erik Sun is serious about his food and big on eating organically – though not necessarily in the same way as most people are. His meats aren't sourced from grocery stores or even local farms. His experience with food is much more visceral. He hunts his meats, spears his fish and skins, butchers and cooks everything himself. And yes, he does all of this in California.
“Once I was hunting a white sea bass in the San Clemente Islands. They're tough to get because they swim in the kelp. I was ten feet under the surface and was stuck,” he says, when asked about his most frightening experience under the sea. “And I couldn't see what was holding me down.” It turned out a fishing line was stuck on his snorkel. He eventually untangled himself and after grabbing some air, went back down to retrieve his bass.
It's hard to describe what exactly Sun does, because he's involved in so many things. On paper, he's a serial entrepeneur, chef and hunter. He is a partner and occasional cook at Bestia, the owner of Sumora, a spearfishing equipment company and the executive chef of Bos Creek, a grass-fed and pasture-raised meat line from Montana. He does marketing for Republique and is also an avid blogger – chronicling his experience with food on his site, The Pursuit of Food.]
Yet the 29-year-old somehow manages to find time to indulge in his favorite pastimes: hunting and fishing. “I grew up watching Robin Hood and always really wanted to try hunting,” Sun says.
When Sun talks about his literal pursuit of food, you can hear the excitement in his voice and how enthralled he is by the chase. “My weapon of choice is the bow,” he admits. “It forces you to get up close to the animal and it's a much more intimate experience.”
“We talk a talk a lot about wanting to be more connected to our food and striving to eat organic,” Sun says. “These ingredients are 100% free range, true organic and the freshest and tastiest. Handpicked from the source.”
Lately, he's a fan of the wild boar. “They come down from the mountains to eat almonds, pistachios and figs. The farmers want to get rid of them,” he says. The boars are nocturnal and so the entire hunting expedition is lighted by the moon. Sun's schedule is gruesome: He leaves Los Angeles at 4 p.m., drives up to Bakersfield where he hunts, and comes back at 3 a.m. in the morning. (Note: a permit is needed for this type of game.)
“The pigs have a really strong sense of smell so we bring a scent block to cover human scent. I also bring a shot gun, rifle and bow,” Sun says. He once shot and brought down a 700-pound boar. “We had to use a crane to hoist it.”
Sun's pursuit of boar didn't come overnight; it took him two years to shoot his first pig. “But that night, I got five, which is the most I've ever gotten in a single trip.”
Raised in Laguna, Sun began his relationship with food in 6th grade. “I was a fan of David Rosengarten and got really into baking,” he says. In high school, he took up spearfishing after witnessing a couple of divers surfacing with skewered fish. Sun pursued a diver's certification and by the age of 19, became the owner of Sumora – a spearfishing company which manufactures underwater guns and spears in South Africa. It was also then that he took up cooking and experimented with different flavors and ingredients.
His tip? “Spend money on really good food and dissect it,” he says. “Your palate needs to be better than your customers.”
Sun attended UCLA as an English major and after graduation, worked at HSBC in the wealth division department for a year until he decided to commit full-time to Sumora, where he worked on expanding the business and promoting the brand.
It wasn't until 2008 that he got into the professional food world. During a meal out at Angelini Osteria he met Ori Menashe, then chef de cuisine at Angelini, and the restaurant's much-lauded owner and chef, Gino Angelini. “I was just a diner but I told Angelini, 'I love your food and I'm going to bring you some seafood.'” That evening, Sun stayed up until 3 a.m. foraging for lobster, octopus and scallops. The three men became friends.
“I finally got Ori to go hunting with me. The first time, we got wild ducks and quail,” he said. He added, sheepishly: “We even tried eating a crow.”
In 2011, Sun and Menashe teamed up with Bill Chait to open Bestia, where Sun is a partner and occasional cook. But these days, Sun is focused on Bos Creek, a pasture-raised meat line from Montana. He's also committed to launching another restaurant, this time in San Francisco, where the focus will be on meats. “We're set to launch in early 2015,” he said.
And if you weren't already impressed, there's more. Sun is big on charity too and is heavily involved with St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, where he donates his leftover game. “Two boars last year fed 2000 people at their midnight mission,” he said. “We're fortunate to eat good food but not everyone is fortunate to even have food.”
As for his guiding philosophy? Sun quotes a Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Maybe Sun should amend the proverb to include boars.