LOCAL HERO WINNERS 2015

localHeroes2015

BEST FARMER:
JEFF LARKEY/ROUTE 1 FARMS

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“Food should be grown where it’s eaten”

By Deborah Luhrman
Photography by Angela Aurelio

Farmer Jeff Larkey started out in the 1970s selling vegetables over the back fence of his organic garden in the Live Oak neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Nearly four decades later, he’s still going strong and was voted Best Farmer for the second consecutive year by the readers of Edible Monterey Bay magazine.

“There was a little 1860s farmhouse where about 10 of us lived communally, and we had a one-acre garden along with cows, chickens, ducks and goats,” he recalls.

Larkey, who grew up in Davis, was drawn to Santa Cruz after seeing visionary ecologist Richard Merrill speak about alternative energy at the university there. Merrill was teaching horticulture at Cabrillo College, so Larkey came to study with him, while at the same time taking more interest in the garden back home than any of his housemates.

When the very first farmers’ market in Santa Cruz opened just a few blocks away at the Live Oak Elementary School in the late ’70s, Larkey was one of the vendors. He’s been a key figure in the local organic movement ever since.

“Food should be grown where it’s eaten and, fortunately, we live in this special place where that’s possible,” he says. Reducing energy use in the food system is still the mission of Route 1 Farms and something Larkey keeps in mind every day as he cultivates dozens of different fruits, vegetables and herbs on 65 acres in Santa Cruz and at Waddell Creek.

“You can grow organically and think you are sustainable, but transportation is everything. It’s all about food/pound/miles. The carbon footprint of agriculture has to enter into the equation,” he believes.

That’s why Route 1 Farms only delivers to local stores and restaurants and through five Santa Cruz farmers’ markets—although some crops make their way into the Bay Area via distributors like Veritable Vegetable.

That’s also why Larkey was reluctant to get into CSAs. “We were late to the game,” he admits. “I always pooh-poohed the CSAs because I didn’t think it was a very efficient way to deliver.”

But now Route 1 has devised a way to drop off CSA boxes on delivery runs to local shops. The farm enjoys a loyal group of CSA members that number around 150 families for the 28-week summer season and about 85 for the shorter winter season. In addition to offering weekly boxes of fresh, local produce, Route 1 provides its CSA members with a chance to meet the farmer and frolic on the farm in a popular series of summer dinners that feature some of the best local chefs and wineries.

Larkey had a scare last year, when the property he farms on Ocean Street Extension at the edge of Santa Cruz was put up for sale. But his white knight appeared, with a patch over his eye, in the form of surfing icon Jack O’Neill, who purchased the property to ensure that it will remain farmland forever.

Larkey also plans to farm forever. “It’s healthy work; I never have to go to the gym,” he reasons. “When I get old, I’ll just be the guy who points his finger. I don’t know what else I would do.”

Route 1 Farms
831.426.1075
route1farms.com

Deborah Luhrman is a lifelong journalist who has reported from around the world. She returned home to the Santa Cruz Mountains a few years back and enjoys covering our growing local foods movement. She also edits EMB’s electronic newsletter.

BEST CHEF/RESTAURANT:
JEFFREY WEISS/JENINNI KITCHEN + WINE BAR

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“I’m a person who really likes big flavors”

By Deborah Luhrman
Photography by Michelle Magdalena

It might have been the mini foie gras hot dogs that chef Jeffrey Weiss served at Big Sur Food & Wine last November that put him over the top in Edible Monterey Bay’s Local Heroes reader poll for Best Chef of the year. Or perhaps it was the light and crispy octopus appetizer with Calabrian chile and lemon mermelada, or the decadently rich chicken liver pâté offered nightly at Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar in Pacific Grove, where Weiss has been cooking alongside sommelier/owner Thamin Saleh for the past 15 months.

“We were into foie before it was cool,” laughs Weiss, who added an entire foie section to the menu at Jeninni after the California ban was overturned in January.

“It’s a real honor to have people say, ‘Hey, check that guy out in Pacific Grove.’ We’ve been working really hard to build something in a little town that is not so well known, and word is getting out,” he says of the Local Heroes award.

Weiss is no shrinking violet. He got used to the spotlight as a junior silver medalist in figure skating in his teens, went to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and has worked with star chefs like José Andrés and April Bloomfield. The day we spoke, he was getting ready to leave on an international tour to promote his book Charcutería: The Soul of Spain and had just received word that his 465-page tribute to Iberian cured meats had been chosen as the United States winner of the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the Foreign/International category. The book has since been nominated to receive the Art of Eating Prize for Best Food Book of the Year.

His love of Spain—and yearlong training there under a government grant—are much in evidence at Jeninni, with dishes like matanza ribs, housemade butifarra sausage, wagyu bullfighter’s steak and the most authentic paella in town—often served as part of Jeninni’s Tuesday Night Dinner series and always available with advance notice.

Weiss also finds inspiration here at home, from the farmers’ market and local fishing boats hauling in Dungeness crab, to the movie theater. In fact, a Mediterranean salad he recently spotted in the film American Sniper is about to make an appearance on the menu.

But before adding a new dish at Jeninni, Weiss has four criteria it must meet: 1. Can the ingredients be found locally? 2. Does the dish fit the restaurant’s concept of southern Mediterranean cuisine? 3. Is it delicious? Would I want to eat it more than once a week? 4. Does it pair well with wine?

“Thamin gives me lots of leeway but knows when to step in,” the chef says. “I’m a person who really likes big flavors, but, after all, we are a wine bar.”

Weiss’ cooking is unique in the Monterey Bay area. He shows off the flavors of Spain, Sicily, Puglia, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean in dishes prepared California style, using locally available ingredients from growers like Borba and Mariquita Farms.

Sustainably raised lamb—for his renowned lamb burger with eggplant fries—comes from Superior Farms in Davis. “We use farms we believe in and want to support,” he says.

“We’re a neighborhood restaurant,” adds Weiss. “Local is our lifeblood.”

Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar
542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove
831.920.2662
jeninni.com

BEST FOOD PURVEYOR:
COLLEEN LOGAN, SAVOR THE LOCAL

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Bringing the farm to the table, one minivan trip at a time

By Lisa Crawford Watson
Photography by Patrick Tregenza

Like many other Carmel moms, Colleen Logan starts most of her weekday mornings by escorting her child to school.

But then she breaks from the typical script. She points her minivan away from the sea and heads to one of our local organic farms, like Mariquita Farm, in Watsonville, to select produce from the morning’s harvest and bring it back to deliver to local chefs.

It’s low-profile and largely behind-the-scenes work, but it’s important enough to the farms and restaurants her 2-year-old business serves that Savor the Local was voted Best Food Purveyor in Edible Monterey Bay magazine’s 2015 Local Hero Awards.

Why is it so important? The surprising truth is that even in the middle of one of the most productive farming areas in the country, it’s not easy for chefs to get diverse daily shipments of just-picked, seasonal organic produce. Few local organic farms—especially small ones—have the resources to make frequent deliveries to restaurants. So the restaurants must either limit their orders to the few farms that do, use a big food service company offering less-fresh options or travel to farmers’ markets when they can (not a convenient option for chefs in Big Sur and other areas where there are none) and make do between markets.

“I realized I wanted to address this whole disconnect our society has to food,” Logan says of her decision to start her business. “Straight up, our connection to the earth is through our stomachs. I decided this had reached a critical point, and I couldn’t look the other way and do something else with my life when there was this crying need to help local farmers have a better living, and get fresh food from the local farm to the community.”

Logan’s life began in Indiana, but her story of devotion to the land began after college. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in political economics, she went to visit her brother in New Mexico and fell in love. Her passion for the landscape, the lifestyle and the locals inspired her to move to the “Land of Enchantment” and dedicate herself to making it a better place.

Her focus was water conservation. Logan’s work led her to an environmental consulting position for a national firm, a job she took with her when moving to Carmel in 2008. A year later, she and most of her colleagues were laid off.

Logan, who had subscribed to a community supported agriculture program that regularly delivered a box of fresh produce and other local products, had never farmed but had always had an interest in it. Part of her interest came from a respect for the inherent risk of putting a seed in the ground, and part of it came from her work in natural resources. With Savor the Local, she’s found a profound need that she can fulfill.

“Savor the Local is an absolute game changer,” says Big Sur Bakery chef Jacob Burrell.

“We grow our own stuff in a small plot, but there is no way our garden can keep up with the volume. The reason I came out to California [from Pittsburgh], to be honest, is the produce. And Colleen’s the go between. She gives us a list of what’s available, we pick and choose what we want and she brings it, freshly picked. I don’t have time to stand in line at a farmers’ market, and she does it for us, a mom in a minivan.”

Logan has considered bringing in staff to expand her reach, but she holds the reins tightly on quality control and enjoys introducing the unexpected fruit or vegetable, so her chefs can experiment with their menus. When Logan suggests something to Affina’s chef de cuisine James Anderson, he jumps on it, she says. She is treasured by Basil Seasonal Dining’s Soerke Peters, and Aubergine pastry chef Ron Mendoza will make ice cream out of just about anything she delivers.

“Colleen’s into the chef, she’s into the farmer, she’s into the cause, she’s into spreading good food around the community,” says Burrell.

“She goes out of her way to deliver to us, making it easier for us to connect to the farmers. I think she believes in what we put on the table; I trust her to pick out whatever she thinks will work for us. It’s a nice, reciprocal relationship.”

Savor the Local
Carmel
831.708.8315
savorthelocal.com

Lisa Crawford Watson lives on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.

BEST BEVERAGE ARTISAN:
DISCRETION BREWING

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Rewards do come to those who do good

By Amber Turpin
Photography by Angela Aurelio

The word discretion means the power to choose. When owners Rob and Kathleen Genco opened Discretion Brewing in March of 2013, they took choosing the business’ name to heart, and they chose a slogan to match: “Choose Goodness. Have Discretion.”

“We’d like to encourage the notion that everyone has the freedom to choose, and that choosing what you consume is an important act,” says Kathleen, whose title is Discretion’s “goodness advocate.”

“It is not only Rob and I personally who are choosing goodness by spending more for organic ingredients, giving away money and beer to our local community and seeking greener ways of doing business— but everyone who chooses to drink Discretion beer is choosing true goodness in a glass, and also choosing to support a business that is trying to be good for our employees and our community.”

The public seems to agree with these choices, as Discretion has been voted Best Beverage Artisan in the 2015 Edible Monterey Bay Local Hero Awards. And the award is just the most recent in a long list of honors for this relatively new brewery, including a coveted Gold Medal for its “Song in Your Heart” English Ale at the 2014 World Beer Cup.

Kathleen and Rob were always passionate about food and drink but had not expected to open a brewery. Rob still works for a software company in Silicon Valley, and before conceiving Discretion, Kathleen was the assistant dean of students at the Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School. But when their son, Lars, started brewing beer at home, they got to see the process up close and it catalyzed their interest into a business idea.

The Gencos sought out brewers who would share their ideals. They held an international search that brought them resumés from far and wide, and they discovered Michael Demers, who not only shares their values but who also grew up in Soquel. Demers went to Colorado to study music and had been brewing beer professionally there since 1996.

The gathering place is central to the Gencos’ vision for their brewery. Kathleen explains that she once gave her students an assignment to list 100 things that they would like to do, be, see or have, and when she did this exercise for herself, one of the important items on her own list was to create a gathering place. She and Rob never wanted to make beer in a vacuum and merely send it out. Rather, they relish bringing people together and building community. Last year, they added to the community draw, bringing in chef Santos Majano, formerly chef at Soif Restaurant Restaurant and Wine Bar in Santa Cruz, who has created a menu that is beer focused, seasonal and locally sourced.

Is it harder to build a brewery committed to making good choices at every turn? Kathleen says no, it is not. It is more expensive, certainly, but it is far more fulfilling. And she is convinced that their discretion is among the biggest reasons for their success.

Discretion Brewing
2703 41st Ave., Soquel
831.316.0662
discretionbrewing.com

BEST PASTRY CHEF:
AUBERGINE’S RON MENDOZA

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The pastry chef who skipped pastry class

By Lisa Crawford Watson
Photography by Michelle Magdalena

When executive pastry chef Ron Mendoza first went to work at Aubergine restaurant in L’Auberge Carmel, he says that the boutique hotel was importing hard candies from Italy for the guestrooms. Mendoza suggested soft, smooth, buttery caramels instead, and said he would make them by hand.

“We could buy caramels from all kinds of places,” Mendoza says, “but why, when I can make them especially for the hotel. Besides the salt in them, I add something different—just enough lemon zest to give them a flavor that goes beyond, cutting through the richness of all the butter and cream and sugar, to give them a little zing.”

This amenity now provided to overnight guests is also kept at the front door of L’Auberge for anyone to purchase, and they sell—by the dozens.

Mendoza’s caramels, he says, are exactly what pastry is all about: taking a recipe and seeing what you can create from scratch, what you can do with it to make it your own. This kind of innovation likely helped him earn Edible Monterey Bay magazine’s 2015 reader-selected Local Hero Award for Best Pastry Chef.

But pastry didn’t always capture Mendoza’s imagination.

The whole time Mendoza was in culinary school at what is now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, he ditched his pastry class, believing that pastry, like math, was something he would never need. He was attracted not by the sweet, but the savory, and that’s where he focused his attention.

Mendoza’s first real job, in downtown Los Angeles, was at Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, where he started as a prep cook and then moved up the line. (On his first day, he started his shift at 7am and was invited to stay on to work a special dinner party for Julia Child’s birthday. He met her, talked with her and shook her hand. And he missed school, putting in an 18½-hour day. It was, he says, worth it.)

It was after going to work for Patina, which was—in his mind and many others’—the best restaurant in Los Angeles, when Mendoza began to feel the allure of pastry.

“At Patina,” Mendoza says, “I was a pantry chef [preparing cold foods], working next to the pastry station. Fascinated by what they were doing, I just kept asking questions. When the chef asked me to help them for two months, I jumped at the chance to learn pastry and never looked back. Ultimately, I realized I was always meant to do pastry. It takes a certain mentality—calculated, well thought out, yet free and creative.”

When working as a savory chef, Mendoza points out, he must create his dish with a pre-existing centerpiece, like a piece of fish or meat or some vegetables. “We don’t make the fish, we cook it,” he explains.

“But with pastry, the chef is coming up with something from nothing. A cake is the product of all the raw ingredients combined to make something, and how I bring them together is going to be different than what anyone else would do.”

Mendoza’s absolute favorite thing to make is ice cream, mostly because, when it comes to flavor, he believes ice cream allows him to do anything.

“In a fine dining restaurant,” he says, “where people come in for a peak experience, I do ice cream in flavors that surprise people. It has the best texture and is the most intense it can be on all levels. Rarely do I serve just a scoop of ice cream. I think, ‘With what will I pair this ice cream?’ It’s a study in how to build a dish. Maybe I’ll introduce lemon or orange or Grand Marnier.

“I’m a bit of a mad scientist,” Mendoza says, “far more so than anyone else in the kitchen.”

Aubergine
Monte Verde Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel
831.624.8578
auberginecarmel.com

BEST NONPROFIT:
TEEN KITCHEN PROJECT

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Cooking up comfort, confidence and community

By Elizabeth Limbach
Photography by Patrice Ward

When Angela Farley’s son Charlie began recovering from the lung cancer he contracted at the astonishingly young age of four, she didn’t expect to stay long in “the cancer world.”

Yet, four years later, here she is still—at the helm of a growing nonprofit organization of her own creation that provides nourishing meals to local families shattered by life-threatening illness. The organization, Teen Kitchen Project, has been voted Best Nonprofit of 2015 by Edible Monterey Bay’s readers.

“I was consumed with managing my PTSD by organizing food delivery for people who were sick,” she says of the period that followed her son’s upturn. “The work chose me.”

Inspired and trained by Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol, Farley’s meal delivery effort became Teen Kitchen Project in the fall of 2012. With the help of head chef Stephanie Forbes and an army of volunteer teen cooks, dishwashers, chefs, drivers and local farms, the Soquel- based group has in fewer than three years logged 2,400 volunteer hours and delivered more than 24,200 free meals to families coping with grave illness. Today, it involves 125 teens and delivers seven seasonal, mostly organic meals to 40 families each week.

As is often the case with acts of kindness, the project’s teen cooks have been graced with their own rewards. In particular, they’ve learned their way around a commercial kitchen—gaining skills with knives, safe food handling and industrial ovens. They’ve also acquired universally applicable life experience in collaboration, leadership, healthy cooking and eating, and playing positive roles in their communities.

“Most people have known somebody who’s been ill with a lifethreatening illness or have been in the situation themselves with their family,” Farley says, reflecting on the program’s impact. “But everyone has also been a teenager and for a lot of people that time was hard—it was a time when they were trying to figure out where they fit in the community.

“The teens in our program get a really clear sense of their importance,” she adds. “It helps them connect with their community in a meaningful way.”

In 2015, Teen Kitchen Project aims to expand its reach by 50% and, to that end, Farley is taking a sabbatical from her teaching job to work as Teen Kitchen Project’s full-time executive director.

The organization has added new chefs, increased its time in the kitchen and, with new Spanish-language materials, plans to step up its outreach to Spanish speakers. The group also aims to launch cooking classes for all of the people it serves—the families of the ill and those of its teen volunteer force alike.

“I’m constantly amazed at how this project is continually supported by everyone,” Farley says. “The organization isn’t me, it’s not the chef, it’s not just the teens or the volunteers—it’s the whole community working together.”

Perhaps best of all for Farley, the community rallying around her also includes little Charlie, the catalyst for her original inspiration. He’s now a thriving 7-year-old who helps carry 25-pound bags of carrots from the car to Teen Kitchen Project’s walk-in refrigerator—and occasionally even cooks her breakfast in bed.

Teen Kitchen Project
831.316.4540
teenkitchenproject.org

Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning freelance writer based in Santa Cruz

BEST FOOD ARTISAN:
TABITHA STROUP/FRIEND IN CHEESES JAM CO.

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“I’m just a crazy girl doing what I love”

By Deborah Luhrman
Photography by Mary Dolan and Amy Spencer

The only person to win one of our Local Hero awards all four years that we’ve held them is Tabitha Stroup of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co., and while slightly astounded, the wildly talented jam maker is never at a loss for words: “It feels badass. It tickles and amazes me. It will never get old to have this kind of recognition. It deeply means so much to me.”

Always moving at breakneck speed, Stroup started Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. five years ago with just three local shops carrying her flashy flavor combinations, and has expanded now to some 500 retail outlets on both coasts. Jam making and shipping go on practically every day with five assistants, though Stroup says she doesn’t use any written recipes and still stirs every batch herself.

Stroup’s culinary career started in the 1990s at the pastry bench in the legendary India Joze restaurant. “I bugged Jozseph to teach me things, and he introduced me to the wide world of flavor,” she recalls. “He’s always been really good at expressing flavors and putting them on a plate.”

Following a two-year “trial by fire” as pastry chef at the Dream Inn and a stint at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, she was hired as pastry chef and garden helper at Theo’s in Soquel— one of the area’s first farm-to-table restaurants. “That was my first exposure to real food, and that was when things like seasonality really started to click for me,” she says.

“It was an innocent era before chef stardom. David Kinch would show up on a Saturday night with all these stinky cheeses wrapped in newspaper,” she remembers. “We were just a collection of people on the fringes, and that’s where we felt we belonged. We were so self-motivated, we never wanted to leave, so we’d sit in the driveway at night sipping whiskey from paper cups.”

Eventually Stroup got burned out on the grind of daily restaurant work and began working as a promoter of Santa Cruz Mountain wineries. It’s the oldest wine growing region in California and Stroup believes it has remained largely untainted by exposure to public whims. “The artists that work with wine in this region do it for themselves and that keeps them honest and pure,” she says. “There are some seriously sexy wines coming out of here.”

Teaching about wine, organizing events and hosting pairings for local wineries proved to be her forte. And her food went well beyond brie and crackers. “One time I put red Starburst candies on fresh rosemary skewers and roasted them over a hibachi, then paired them with a Syrah,” she says. “People really started to get that wine!”

Her business was called “Praise cheeses, pass the wine,” and when people kept telling her she should sell her homemade jams and condiments, she started Tabitha’s Appropriate Jams because, she explains, “everything else I did was so inappropriate.”

Pinot Cherries was her first commercial success, and the business morphed into what is now Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. Other popular flavors—using produce sourced from small, local farms—include Electric Beetroot Confiture, made with pink peppercorns, fresh thyme and Meyer lemon; Tart ’N Spicy Tomato Jelly; and Pisco Pear Butter. Currently she’s experimenting with a prickly pear/padrón pepper blend and something using salt-cured Rangpur limes.

“The past five years have been the most intense, joyful, painful journey I’ve ever been on,” she adds. “I’m just a crazy girl doing what I love.”

Friend in Cheeses Jam Co.
friendincheeses.com

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