Photos by Patrice Ward
Chaing Mai noodles, a chance to meet fellow environmentally–minded foodies and tips for growing organic blueberries were all part of the menu at Edible Monterey Bay’s second Popup Supper Club, with Charlie Hong Kong and the UCSC Farm & Garden.
The premise of Edible Monterey Bay’s new Supper Club series is ultimately all about community building, creating opportunities for the public to come together, sharing a delicious meal and cultivating bonds that celebrate the food of our region. The platform is also aimed at thanking the magazine’s supporters, and it is exciting to think of the possibilities that could come out of the new monthly event. The magazine’s lastest Supper Club, its second, proved to be a terrific example of what could result.
Breaking from your typical tasting menu, this event opened up the stage for collaboration and served as a fundraiser all at once. The afternoon began with the perfect nod to Earth Day, also falling on this date of April 22, as attendees met at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden for a tour. It ended with a rare chance to experience most of Charlie Hong Kong’s delicious signature Asian dishes all at once, in a family-style dinner that the restaurant closed its doors to stage.
Liz Milazzo, our tour guide and
Liz Milazzo, the Center for Agroecology’s field production manager, led the farm tour, explaining some of its history. It all started in 1967 when master English gardener (and Shakespearean actor!) Alan Chadwick was brought to campus by the Philosophy and History of Consciousness Departments to create a student garden project. His influence and distinct methodology of low-impact, organic practices set the stage for what the program is today. Since then, similarly influential farmers, researchers and policymakers have all been touched by the power of this place.
The Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, the official title of this special program, is a highly sought after and competitive residential training opportunity that each year gives 40 lucky people the skills they will need to go into the world and make a positive impact through farming. The 25-acre farm and the two-acre Alan Chadwick Garden serve as the classroom.
And what a stunning classroom it is! Except for when the fog descends, like it did for our tour, farm visitors and residents are treated to sweeping views of Monterey Bay and a farm that the apprentices tend meticulously year after year.
Everything grown on the farm is sold to the local community. About 60% goes directly to its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers, 30% goes to the bi-weekly market cart at the base of campus and 10% is sold back to a small group of institutions, restaurants like Charlie Hong Kong and the campus itself. There is a deeper reasoning behind this production aside from creating income. Milazzo explains, “When there is a partnership with the people growing and eating the food, a silent agreement forms regarding the stewardship of the land.”
|Carolyn Rudolph, our host and
the co-owner of Charlie Hong Kong
So what and where is the Supper Club part to this story? Enter Santa Cruz local’s favorite Asian “street food” standby, Charlie Hong Kong.
Owners Rudy and Carolyn Rudolph, long-time contributors to the Center for Agroecology, thought the inclusion of the farm in their Earth Day celebration would be a perfect way to give back even more. And so, after our informative romp through blueberry fields and cover crops, our group made our way across town to the Rudolph’s Soquel Avenue restaurant for our meal.
As we grouped together at tables for what had been described as a “tasting,” we started to realize just what we had gotten ourselves into. Much less little “tastes,” and more like a full menu, our dishes were grouped by theme, beginning with salads, then moving onto bowls, then toppings and, finally, desserts, all accompanied by tart, vibrant limeade and hot jasmine, oolong tea or beer.
Platters of classic fresh spring rolls, called Salad Wraps here, began the meal, then moved to the Goddess of Springtime green salad and the chilled Chili Sesame Noodle Salad. Next came a warming cup of spicy Thai Coconut Mushroom Soup, perfect on this evening, while Carolyn walked around with lime wedges for us to squeeze into the rich liquid.
The feast continued with the Charlie Hong Kong customer favorite noodle dish, Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight. Crowding the tables were also bowls of Laughing Phoenix Red Curry, the Northern Thai yellow curry dish Chaing Mai Noodles and their version of Pad Thai that hails from Southern Thailand. Because all of Charlie’s sauces are vegan, meaning no fish sauce or dried shrimp additions that typically constitute many of these dishes, the restaurant makes use of fresh herbs, citrus and lots of vegetables to brighten each option.
In fact, those vegetables are a high priority to the Rudolphs, who told us that the kitchen chops 400 to 500 pounds of greens and other veggies every day. The only local farm that can meet that kind of demand is Watsonville’s Lakeside Organics, which provides the restaurant with chard, cabbage, bok choy and mustard greens. The restaurant also features smaller producers that are currently sourcing specialty crops like green garlic from Dirty Girl Produce, braising greens from the farm, strawberries from Windmill Farms, leeks from Everett Family Farm, and green shallots and fresh flowers from Blue Heron Farm.
Bellies full, we could barely dent the bowls of cilantro and mint-laced Green Chicken Cury, Hoisin Pork or Sweet Garlic Tofu that made the rounds to top off the restaurant’s signature bowls. We were generously provided with takeout containers, saving our expanding stomachs as well as limiting food waste. We finished the meal with a Strawberry Jasmine Rice Pudding, creamy with coconut milk, and said our good-byes as the restaurant opened to members of the public, who even on a Sunday night crowded the door in anticipation. It was a fulfilling Earth Day indeed. Want to know what’s on tap for next month’s Supper Club? Stay tuned…