CAN WE HAVE A DRUM ROLL PLEASE…
Edible Monterey Bay readers choose our 2014 Local Heroes
By Deborah Luhrman
Best Food Purveyor
Nancy Birang (pictured)
There are so many fabulous organic farms, fine food artisans and creative chefs in our community, it’s difficult to single out the very best, but the readers of Edible Monterey Bay have had their say. In online voting, they selected our Local Heroes for 2014. Please join us in celebrating all of them!
“I’m honored,” says Jeff Larkey of Route 1 Farms, who started farming on a 11⁄2- acre plot on the banks of the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz back in 1981. “People seem to like us because we do a good job communicating our cultivation practices and principles to our customers at the farmers’ market and through special events, like our summer dinners on the farm.”
Nowadays Larkey and his crew organically cultivate 65 acres, including 40 acres along the north coast at Waddell Creek. They grow dozens of varieties of vegetables, and their basil, cilantro and specialty lettuces are highly sought after by customers at the Downtown Santa Cruz, Westside and Aptos Farmers’ Markets. A consistent supply of high-quality Route 1 produce can also be found in Santa Cruz shops and through its year-round CSA. Runners up were: Caleb Barron and Johnny Wilson of Fogline Farm in Soquel and Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farms in Monterey.
Chef of the year Brad Briske heads up the kitchen at Carmel’s smokin’ hot La Balena restaurant and actually met the restaurant’s owners while cooking at EMB’s first Local Heroes dinner back in 2012. Emanuele Bartolini was impressed with Briske’s skills in converting a pile of farm- fresh vegetables and pasture-raised meat into a delicious feast reminisent of meals he’d enjoyed in his native Florence. A rustic, Tuscan restaurant concept was born and several weeks later, La Balena opened.
“I’ve been surprised by the success and how busy we are,” admits Briske, who makes his own exquisite charcuterie and fresh pasta daily. “My style is light and fresh and all based around what’s available in the farmers’ market or at a handful of small, local farms. Nothing on the menu is out of season. It’s pretty simple, but people have become very loyal.” Runners up were: Ben Sims of Bantam and Paul Geise of Ristorante Avanti, both in Santa Cruz
For the third year running, EMB readers chose New Leaf Community Markets as their favorite food retailer. Owner Scott Roseman sold a controlling interest in the company to Portland-based New Seasons in 2013, but maintains it’s still a local market: “The [original] owners are still owners, though with a smaller share of the company. But more importantly, New Leaf has always done business with local farmers and local producers and that’s certainly going to continue or even expand.”
New Leaf in 2013 also earned certification as a B Corp through a rigorous assessment of its business ethics. “Being a B Corp is a badge of honor that I’m proud to wear,” says Roseman, noting that New Leaf is only the second grocer in the world to become certified—and the first was New Seasons. In the next few months he expects to unveil the locations of the 9th and 10th New Leaf stores, likely to open in 2015. Runners up were: Staff of Life and Shopper’s Corner, both in Santa Cruz.
“It’s beyond amazing,” beams Tabitha Stroup, on learning she’d been voted best food artisan for the second year in a row. “I’m working about 80 hours a week with my head down, so when something like this happens, it makes me stop and realize I must be doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Stroup took her tasty jams and condiments national last year and they’re currently available in 20 states. She also started selling in large 4-pound containers to bars and restaurants to reduce the ecological impact of jam jars—now made with all recycled glass. With an eye on the environment, she’s also switching over to new eco-friendly FiberStone labels, made with no paper or water usage.
As for new flavors, last fall she debuted Pisco Pear Butter, made with French butter pears, candied ginger, nutmeg, pepper and a shot of Peruvian pisco. In 2014 she plans to release a new Kumquat Shrub, crafted with whole candied kumquats, bay leaf and Meyer lemons— perfect as a cocktail base, meat glaze or garnish on cheese trays. Runners up were: Kendra Baker of Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz and Jordan Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. in Pacific Grove.
“Wow, we never win anything!” says a very pleased Emily Thomas, when she learns her Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing company had been selected best beverage artisan. Now in its ninth year, SCMB is a comfortable, friendly place to hang out and has a rotating menu of popular craft beers.
Last year Thomas began partnering with local nonprofits for Thank- You Thursdays. “We decided to put the beer to good use,” she says, explaining that $1 per pint is donated to the organization of the week. In this foamy way, SCMB raised about $15,000 for 25 nonprofits and in the process made loads of new friends and alliances. Runners up were: Kate Appel of 3 of a Kind in Monterey and Discretion Brewing in Soquel.
“We link together community resources to solve the childhood obesity problem,” explains Nancy Birang, president and co-founder of Nourishing Generations along with Karen Haralson. Birang is a nutrition instructor at Bauman College in Santa Cruz and Haralson is a holistic chef with Vibrant Foods Catering.
Their project, which won the best nonprofit award, teaches children ages eight to 11 about nutrition through cooking, fitness and mindful eating. “When you get kids excited about cooking, they make healthier food choices,” says Birang, who conducts afterschool classes at three elementary schools in the Live Oak district of Santa Cruz, using food donated by Live Earth Farm and volunteer trainers from Toadal Fitness. Kids are taught to make healthy snacks and dishes like quiche or rainbow frittata, then sit down to eat together by candlelight. Nourishing Generations also partners with Dignity Health to provide nutrition programs for youth living in Parkhurst affordable housing in Aptos, and they work with kids at Starlight Elementary in Watsonville through a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. Runners up were: the Homeless Garden Project and Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts, both in Santa Cruz.