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Member of Edible Communities

Celebrating San Diego’s local foods season by season • No. 7 • Winter 2009

Meat Gets Local • Farm-Driven Distribution Cooks Confab: Elevating Local Cuisine • School Lunch Reform Winter Comfort Food • Ramona Valley Wineries


winter 2009

CONTENTS Publisher’s Note


Notable Edibles


Spreading the Wealth Winter Comfort Food with Chef Ron Oliver

5 0

In Season Interview Giving the Gift of Good Nutrition

6 0

In Sight 30 Lured by Local Flavor 0 On The Radar


Advertisers Directory


Farmers’ Markets



FEATURES Dining Out, Edible Style

8 Restaurants that Walk the Talk 00

Conversations for the Table

14 The National School Lunch Program 00


In the Kitchen 16 The Creation of Cooks Confab 00 Meat Gets Local

20 A growing demand for local protein sparks a comeback 00 Farm-Driven 24 The road from field to restaurant runs through Crows Pass 00 Liquid Assets

27 Forging a Wine Trail in Ramona 00

Winter 2009

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Publisher’s note This really is the season of giving thanks. The shorter, cooler days make us want to cook big family meals and cozy in together to enjoy and celebrate just about anything—including the holidays. John and I feel especially thankful this year because Edible San Diego has made a grand entrance — quite suddenly—into our lives. And with it has come a whole new world of wonderful people, new adventures, great food, and passionate causes. Just at the end of August when I was still incredulous that I had rashly made a life change into magazine publishing, I was heartily reassured by Lucila De Alejandro of Suzie’s Farm. Her beautiful words of belief and encouragement have heartened me and helped me put lingering doubt aside. And her visionary belief in building a better, more sustainable community has inspired me. Thank you. I visited the Mendenhall Ranch with Matt Rimel of Homegrown Meats and that was a day that had me thanking my lucky stars. I couldn’t believe my new job lets me rumble through the beautiful San Diego backcountry in a big ranch truck trying to find cows for a photo shoot. Matt is a character, very passionate about what he does, and incredibly generous. He, too, believes in the rightness of having an Edible San Diego as an advocate for ranchers, farmers, and the sustainable community. Thank you.

CONTRIBUTORS John Alongé Lauren Duffy Caron Golden Brandon Hernández Laura Jong Maria Hunt April Ordoñez Jill Richardson Dashielle Vawter Catt Fields White Candice Woo PUBLISHERS Riley Davenport John Vawter

We were taking a risk jumping into this new venture, but Edible San Diego’s former advertisers took a risk on us. Even though the transition from one publisher to another during shaky financial times may have given them reason to doubt, they steadfastly chose to maintain their presence in the magazine. We extend our gratitude to The Linkery, Sea Rocket Bistro, Ritual Tavern and the Slow Food folks.

EDITOR Lauren Duffy

Blessed be our new supporters and subscribers as well. You are all making it possible for us to continue bringing Edible San Diego to our community and you are helping support the talented writers and photographers who are the core of the magazine.

DESIGNER Cheryl Koehler

And that’s basically what it’s all about—community members supporting each other. Thank you. Riley T. Davenport and John Vawter

Don’t miss a single issue. Subscribe today! Support and celebrate our local food community. Subscribe or give a gift subscription to Edible San Diego for just $32 a year. Subscribing online is easy at Or send your pertinent information (name, street address, city, state and zip code) and your check made payable to Edible San Diego to the address below. Edible San Diego P.O. Box 83549 San Diego, CA 92138


Winter 2009

edible San Diego

COPY EDITOR Doug Adrianson

COVER PHOTO Dashielle Vawter Edible San Diego P.O. Box 83549 San Diego, CA 92138 619 222-8267 ADVERTISING For information about advertising rates and deadlines, call 619 222-8267 or email us at info@ No part of this publication my be used without written permission of the publisher. © 2010. All rights reserved. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies. Thank you.

notable Edibles

New Roots Community Farm, the two-acre farm at 54th Avenue and Chollas parkway in City Heights, has been given a Special Jury Mention orchid in the San Diego Architecture Foundation’s 2009 Orchids & Onions Awards (orchidsandonions. org). The farm was commended for its role in supplementing the diet of low-income families, providing economic opportunities and strengthening the community around it. Starlite, one of our favorite farm-to-table restaurants, won an Orchid for interior design. Local interior design firm Bells & Whistles designed the India Street restaurant inside and out.

Pizza Port Carlsbad and head brewer Jeff Bagby are named Best Large Brewpub and Best Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Healthy Creations, a new Encinitasbased company, does all the prep work for homemade, family-style meals that you can order in advance, pick up fresh or frozen, and simply pop in the oven at home. Founder Rhiana Glor is committed to using certified organic, sometimes-local produce; organic grains (or gluten-free alternatives); free-range poultry and grass fed beef. Order online or sign up for a cooking session at

Manivela, the new bike delivery service founded by Matthew Reate, allows you to order from your favorite neighborhood eatery (even a few that otherwise don’t offer takeout) and avoid the fossil fuel guilt when it arrives by pedal power to your door. Browse restaurants, check delivery zones (which cover most of San Diego’s urban neighborhoods) and place an order through Crop Swapper, a nonprofit founded by Tyler and Todd Blankenship, encourages kitchen gardeners to trade excess fruit, vegetables and herbs with each other, keeping excess crops out of compost bins and making that surplus of chard suddenly seem much more exciting. Find them at the monthly San Diego Natural History Museum Food for Thought series or check them out at The Linkery has signed a lease for the space at 3926 30th St. for a forthcoming restaurant that will feature modestly priced farm-totable small plates and “California-Spanish-Baja” cuisine. Look for it to open sometime this summer. Men’s Journal has named San Diego the top beer city in the country, for its 33 craft breweries, approachable brewers and diversity of beers available across the city—especially along 30th Street in North and South Parks.

Winter 2009


Directly from the fishermen

Wild Alaskan Salmon

• Premium Sockeye and Coho fillets • Northwest smoked salmon • Same-day delivery • Quality guaranteed •


Winter 2009

edible San Diego


Spreading the Wealth

Giving the Gift of Good Nutrition By April Ordoñez Healthy food isn’t something that you necessarily think of when donating to food banks. Many people look in the backs of their pantries when searching for foods to donate, often coming up with cans or boxes of less nutritious food. Ruthi Solari, founder of SuperFood Drive, has plans to change that. “I’ve been interested in health and wellness for many years,” Ruthi says. Her lifestyle is one of mindfulness, from the foods she eats, her fitness routine (which includes yoga and rock climbing) and her meditations in India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. Ruthi currently works as a project manager for a corporate wellness program, having completed her clinical nutrition training at the Natural Healing Institute of Naturopathy in San Diego this past June. Solari cites a conference she attended in January 2009 titled “Food as Medicine” as being a factor in the genesis of SuperFood Drive. “I was surrounded by amazingly passionate, knowledgeable integrative health practitioners … but one thing I kept feeling was that the majority of the services we were discussing were primarily available to people with money.” As she sat listening to a lecture about super foods, the idea to provide healthy foods—super foods—came to mind. With the help of Maureen Polimadei (formerly with the San Diego Food Bank) and graphic designer Jeff Silva, SuperFood Drive came to life. SuperFood Drive had its website launch party and an autumn food drive at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. It has also partnered with Slow Food Urban San Diego for an event at Tender Greens in Point Loma. More recently, Solari collaborated with the San Diego Food Bank to host the Whole Foods Holiday Food Drive in Hillcrest and La Jolla this past holiday season. “Our next step is to go into the communities receiving the donations and hold food demos to complete the circle of educating people on how to eat healthy for less,” says Solari. Up next is the “SuperKids for SuperFoods” campaign, piloting in the Lemon Grove School District. “The focus is on getting healthy, kid-friendly snack items into low-income school districts.” Solari notes that communities that benefit from SuperFood Drives are the ones that are most dependent on food banks as their means for obtaining food items. Solari has made it easy for people to get involved with SuperFood Drive. The easiest way to donate is by contributing through a virtual food drive on its website, But, Solari says, “Our favorite way for people to contribute is to host a SuperFood Drive of their own in their own community.” For a full list of healthy, affordable and nonperishable foods that you can donate, visit

Winter 2009


In Season Interview

Winter Comfort Food with Chef Ron Oliver By Laura Jong

Marine Room Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver has a quiet but fervent passion for food. He picked up his knack for cooking from his mother, watching her prepare family meals with ethnic ingredients inspired him to travel to other countries and learn global cooking techniques. Today, his main approach to cooking is market-driven. “Don’t write a recipe and then find the ingredients. Find the ingredients first and make a recipe around it.” He loves local produce but likes to prepare it using global influences, like South American or Middle Eastern techniques and cooking styles. Oliver points out that in the past, winter was about survival (and still is today, in many places). Before refrigeration, people would find ways to preserve the bounty of other seasons—making jams and chutneys, pickling, smoking, sun drying and salting. Now, we—luckily—get to enjoy these delicious methods out of luxury instead of necessity. Oliver feels that one of the biggest challenges in San Diego is that the area never truly looks or feels like winter, so it’s important to be mindful of the season. This is especially true with the influx of fruits from different countries where it is summer—it can make us forget that these things are not in season here. Another challenge he faces is the selection, or lack thereof. Given these challenges, Oliver is still greatly inspired by the winter season. Although we may not experience winter through the weather, Oliver believes you can still feel the seasons through food. People need to be warmed up in the winter—not only through the temperature of food but by warming their souls through comfort food. In fact, Oliver’s favorite winter comfort food is Beef and Beet Borscht because of his love for root vegetables. Oliver’s favorite winter items are sweet potatoes (boniato potatoes), chestnuts, beets, winter savory and preserves. When selecting a good sweet potato, it is important that it feels heavy for its size. Pick ones that have an equal shape and size so they will cook uniformly. Ron recommends the same for beets, but be sure to look at how fresh the green tops are; throw young greens into salads or use larger greens for sautéing or in soups. It can be hard to find fresh chestnuts, but if you do, pinch them to make sure they feel very full inside and are unblemished. Puréed chestnuts work well, too. Fold them into mashed potatoes. Canned or whole frozen chestnuts can be braised with maple syrup, apple juice and butter. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour for an easy winter side dish. 8

Winter 2009

edible San Diego

It’s true, we may not have the young vegetables of spring or the fresh fruits of summer, but one thing that winter allows is to indulge in the foods that make us feel good. May this inspire you to slow down and spend more time in the kitchen this season!

Laura Jong works for Weiser Family Farms, a local, sustainable family farm that has operated since 1977. She considers herself a foodie, and is a big fan of local chefs and great produce. Contact her at

Whipped Boniato Potatoes Courtesy of Executive Chef Bernard Guillas, Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver, From “Flying Pans: Two Chefs, One World” This makes a great side dish! We like to serve this with venison. 2 pounds boniato sweet potatoes ⅓ cup creme fraiche 2 tablespoons maple syrup 2 tablespoons dark rum Pinch cayenne pepper Sea salt, to taste ½ cup crushed hazelnuts 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil Preheat oven to 450°. Wrap potatoes individually in foil. Bake until soft in center. Peel. Place pulp in mixing bowl. Mash until smooth. Fold in creme fraiche, maple syrup and rum. Season with cayenne and salt. Spread into oven-proof serving dish. Mix hazelnuts with hazelnut oil. Sprinkle over boniato. Bake until hot in center and hazelnuts are toasted. Rose Hip Jam Courtesy of Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver

fibrous hairs at one end of the hips.) Wash rose hips thoroughly. Transfer hips to large stainless steel sauce pot and cook over medium heat. Add apple juice and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 35 minutes or until very soft, stirring often. Break down rose hips using a potato masher. Strain through a coarse sieve to remove seeds and skins. Strain through a fine sieve to remove remaining fibers. Return the rose hip purée to a clean pot over medium heat. Stir in sugar. Cook, stirring often, until mixture turns a rich amber color and thickens to a jam consistency. You will be able to see the bottom of the pot after your spoon passes through the mixture. Stir in ginger, rose water, salt and pepper. Cool completely. Transfer to sterilized re-sealable glass jars. Refrigerate. Borscht—Beef and Beet Stew with Fresh Herbs

I love to grow roses, not only for the beautiful flowers but for the hips that appear once the flowers fall. After the first frost of the season, it’s time to pick the hips and make jam. (For those who may not experience signs of frost, rose hips can be picked when they are bright orange and plump.) The preparation can be labor-intensive, which is a great reason to gather your friends and family to help.

Borscht is a wonderful soup or stew that takes on many different forms—hot, cold, puréed, textured, vegetarian or meat-based. Whatever the style, borscht is always reddish in color, sweet/sour in flavor, and should be highly aromatic with herbs and spices. This dish gets better each day, if you can keep it around.

Makes 1 quart jam

Serves 4

8 cups ripe rose hips 2 quarts organic apple juice ¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice 2 cups granulated sugar 1 tablespoon grated ginger root 1 teaspoon rose water ¼ teaspoon sea salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds beef chuck steaks ½ tablespoon caraway seeds 1 teaspoon ground dried ginger ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon Sea salt Black pepper 1 tablespoon oil 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar 4 large cloves garlic

Using a sharp paring knife, remove the calix from the rose hips (these are the

Courtesy of Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver

1 white onion, diced 1 large beet, diced 1 rutabaga, diced 1 large white potato, diced Fresh parsley Fresh dill Sour cream Season meat on both sides with caraway seeds, ginger, cinnamon, sea salt and pepper. Place large stainless steel pot over medium heat. Add oil. When hot, add chuck steaks, browning well on both sides. Add vinegar, sugar, white onion and garlic, followed by 5 cups of cold water. Bring water to a simmer, skimming the foam as it rises. Cover and simmer gently for 3 hours. Remove meat from the liquid. Skim excess fat from the liquid. Add beets, potatoes and rutabaga. Taste and re-season with more salt, pepper and any or all of the spices as necessary. Shred the meat and add it back to the stew. Simmer 30 more minutes. Ladle stew into bowls. Garnish with sour cream, fresh parsley and dill sprigs.

Winter 2009


Dining Out, Edible Style

Restaurants That Walk the Talk San Diego is home to hundreds of restaurants, with dining options as diverse as street-cart tacos and 10-course wine dinners. Yet, there are a few eateries that stand out among the rest—in their dedication to quality ingredients, their commitment to sustainability, and their connection to our community. On the next few pages, you’ll find a dozen that we think walk the talk when it comes to eating right.

3416 Adams Ave. Normal Heights 619-255-2491

“Being ecologically sound is one of the first things we think about when we purchase or change the menu or with any of our decisions,” Graves says. “Ideally, it starts locally first, but it also has to taste good.”

A craft beer lover’s paradise, Blind Lady Ale House features more that 20 rotating taps on an all-stainlesssteel, direct-draw draft system. Their well-chosen beer lineup centers around local breweries and, occasionally, co-owner and master brewer Lee Chase’s own house brew.

They source naturally raised beef from Brandt in Brawley, pork comes from Alpine, bacon from Vande Rose; Graves loves the flavor of the eggs that come from the Eben-Haezer Poultry Ranch’s hens, who eat a vegetarian diet and roam free in Ramona. The restaurant has a thriving rooftop garden that grows produce as diverse as eggplant and pineapple sage, as well as basil and mint used in cocktails behind the bar.

But the restaurant speaks the language of food quite eloquently too. The short but notable market-driven menu uses seasonal, organic produce from Crows Pass in Temecula alongside artisan cheeses and meat, including house-made sausage and chorizo by Chef Aaron LaMonica, a vet of San Diego’s top farm-totable spots. Lee, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Jenniffer, local writer Clea Hantman and her husband, graphic designer Jeff Motch, is vegan, so the menu has a number of vegan-friendly items, including soyrizo from local San Diego Soy Dairy. Blind Lady also offers occasional beer and food pairing dinners, which give Chef LaMonica a chance to showcase his serious cooking chops, plus special beer tastings, including beer flights and meet-the-brewer events. —Candice Woo Winter 2009 edible San Diego

616 J St. Downtown San Diego 619-531-8744 Running a restaurant designed to showcase the seasonal and regional bounty of the California coastline means that Executive Chef Christian Graves of Jsix is making decisions that are good for the environment every day.

Blind Lady Ale House



Many restaurants that offer sustainable or organic cuisine don’t follow through in their catering department in order to save money. “We use all those good things throughout the hotel, whether it’s greens from Andrea Peterson or vegetables from Sage Mountain and Suzie Farms from Imperial Beach,” Graves says. Those naturally grown meals are served on VerTerra plates made from pressed leaves; the coffee and tea is sipped from Earthwise recycled paper cups and the straws are made from cornstarch instead of plastic. There’s very little waste in the kitchen. Non-animal food waste like wilted greens and melon rinds goes to make compost in Ramona and all glass, paper and metal is recycled. Doing all these things fits the Hotel Solamar culture: The hotel, which encourages guests to reuse towels and conserve water and cleans with eco-friendly products, is undergoing the LEED certification to be recognized as a green hotel. —Maria Hunt

Burger Lounge Various locations Local mini-chain Burger Lounge recently opened its fourth restaurant in two years. The cool, modern, orange-and-white themed restaurants fit a compact menu into equally small spaces—the Little Italy branch is more than double the size of the La Jolla original and still under 2,000 square feet. The only thing big is the taste. Tall Grass Beef, an independent ranch in Kansas, supplies clean grass-fed beef for the menu’s centerpiece, which comes in three sizes. Basil-studded turkey burgers are also offered, along with organic veggie burgers built on quinoa, brown rice, carrots, zucchini and mushrooms. They all come on wheat buns baked locally by Bread and Cie. Fries and onion rings, a few salads and artisan cupcakes come on the side. Oh, and local beer. That’s the whole menu. It makes for an efficient operation and one that partners Dean Loring and Mike Gilligan designed so

consciously that they qualified for Green Restaurant Association certification, an expensive and rigorous process. Using sugar-cane-based biodegradable takeout containers and converting used frying oil to bio-fuel added to their score. It’s a little ironic and maybe a little sad that a recurring comment by the uninitiated is that Burger Lounge’s signature dish “doesn’t taste like beef.” The typical American diner has been trained to recognize the taste of cows fed a processed diet, often heavy on corn. Grass-fed beef does taste different; it lacks the familiar vaguely sweet and fatty taste of its corn-fed cousin. Burger Lounge has plenty of satisfied converts to grassfed, though, and they preach to an ever-growing choir via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, thanks to the company’s savvy social media marketing. The main dish may be raised in the Midwest, but the vegetable toppings and salad ingredients are largely California organic and the company sponsors local farmers’ markets and participates in benefits like Specialty Produce’s Fruit of the Soul. In La Jolla, Kensington, Coronado and Little Italy, Burger Lounge is truly a good neighbor, in addition to making a great meal. —Catt Fields White

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens 1999 Citracado Pkwy. Escondido 760-294-7866 Stone Brewing Company doesn’t need a restaurant. They’ve made a name for themselves brewing a consistent lineup of award-winning craft beers and distributing them from coast to coast. Yet when the brewery expanded into their Escondido location in 2005—and designed the facility from the ground up—they included plans for the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Stone founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner have been active Slow Food members for years, and their commitment to good, clean and fair food is apparent as soon as you read the bistro’s menu (their philosophy on food is printed alongside the appetizers). The selection may be worldly—dishes include

tofu yakisoba, wild boar baby-back ribs and chicken tikka masala—but when it comes to ingredients, the kitchen stays close to home. The menu changes with the seasons, allowing Executive Chef Alex Carballo to keep ingredients local and to source from within the community. This means produce from Peterson Specialty Produce, eggs from Eben-Haezer in Ramona and locally caught seafood and shellfish. It also means fruit and vegetables from the brewery’s own garden. What isn’t local is often raised conscientiously elsewhere, like Jidori chicken, Vande Rose pork and grass-fed California beef. But local is important to Stone, a value it stands behind with special events like FRESH! dinners— meals for which every ingredient is not only grown or raised locally, but picked, caught or procured the day of the meal. Outside of the kitchen, the restaurant—and the brewery as a whole—demonstrates an admirable commitment to sustainability. They have installed $2.6 million worth of solar panels on the roof, run their fleet of delivery trucks on biodiesel and turn kitchen scraps and spent grain into compost for their garden. Is there anything these guys can’t do? —Lauren Duffy

Winter 2009 Winter 2009


George’s at the Cove


1250 Prospect St. La Jolla 858-454-4244

3175 India St. Middletown 619-358-9766

George’s isn’t new; it’s been around for 25 years on its perch on Prospect Avenue in La Jolla, overlooking the magnificent Pacific. But it feels new. And, it’s not just local architect Jennifer Luce’s ohso-contemporary remodeling job at George’s California Modern. It’s that long-time executive chef and partner Trey Foshee has taken a fresh approach to the food, with an emphasis on local, sustainable ingredients that play with global influences. The sophisticated food is grounded in flavors from produce grown not 20 minutes away at Chino Farms, where Foshee shops daily.

Its striking interior is a surprise, considering its unassuming Middletown freeway frontage road location. Its siblings Casbah and Turf Club aren’t noted for their locavore vibe. And yet, Starlite is a favorite of chefs and foodies in the know. Many credit Head Chef Marguerite Grifka for the menu’s paean to quality local ingredients.

That means if corn is in season, you’ll enjoy a creamy corn risotto topped with burrata cheese and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms. The minestrone is simmering with seasonal produce. And, come winter, it’s all about root vegetables. And, speaking of vegetables, last fall Foshee debuted his vegetarian menu, with dishes that, he bragged on Twitter, Martha Stewart came in and enjoyed. Foshee is also particular about the sustainability of his seafood. He’s been putting pressure on local suppliers to offer more variety of local seafood and favors serving dishes like harpoon-caught local swordfish and grilled fresh sardines. For pure innovation, enjoy the dessert repertoire of pasty chef Trang Huynh. Foshee has been encouraging her to investigate her Vietnamese roots, and she’s been incorporating some ethnic flavors into her creations. She’s also passionate about beer and using local produce. You’d be hard-pressed to refuse her corn pudding with Crows Pass blueberries, white beer sorbet, roasted soybean powder and cajeta. Fresh flavors based on sustainability and local ingredients, some cool jazz in the background and a gorgeous ocean view: George’s is no longer a place just for special occasions. —Caron Golden


Winter 2009 edible San Diego

“Eating locally has always made sense to me,” she says. “I am thrilled that we have so many resources to do so with such variety in San Diego.” The chef credits experience in New Orleans and Montana for her feel for regional specialization. She also says that working at now-defunct but well-loved Region with Chef/Owner Michael Stebner “had a great impact on how I use and look at ingredients.” Her approach is “to really let them speak for themselves, highlighting them with the preparation.” Grifka says she buys “90 percent of the produce we use locally, changing the menu ad hoc as stuff comes and goes.” She shops the nearby Little Italy farmers’ market each Saturday, gathering fruits and vegetables from Sage Mountain Farm, Schaner Farms and Lone Oak Ranch; picking up almonds from Hopkins AG and meat from Da-Le Ranch. She uses Brandt beef, Jidori chickens and heritage pork from Vande Rose Farms. Producers including La Milpa Organica and Spring Hill Cheese are frequently credited on her menu. Sometimes there are compromises. “Free-range, grass-fed beef just isn’t practical and the Brandts really do a great job with their beef.” Potatoes for Starlite’s acclaimed fries aren’t local or organic because Kennebecs grown in the Pacific Northwest are considered superior for that purpose. Some concessions are made because a wider reach means more variety. “The world has too much good cheese to limit it,” Grifka insists. “This is one aspect of our global food network I use with abandon.” There’s no doubt that emphasizing honest food sources adds to a chef ’s workload. “Multiple sources, changing ingredients, rotating inventories: It’s like a juggling act with more balls in the air.” But Grifka’s extra effort contributes to San Diego’s growing regional cuisine. —Catt Fields White

Tender Greens 2400 Historic Decatur Rd. Point Loma 619-226-6254 Before Liberty Station was converted from a military training facility to a multiuse civilian community, the majority of its edible fare came courtesy of chow hall steam tables and MRE pouches. Today, things are much different thanks in part to Tender Greens, an honest-to-goodness farm-to-table dining destination that sprouted up in the heart of this burgeoning area earlier this year and has quickly gained a loyal following. Established by lifelong friends and chef partners Pete Balistreri and Rian Brandenburg (both of whom cut their culinary teeth under the tutelage of Jeff Jackson at The Lodge at Torrey Pines), Tender Greens utilizes almost 100 percent local products garnered from reputable sources including Brandt Beef, Blue Grass, Crows Pass, Scarborough Farms and nearby Point Loma Farms. These and other such renowned purveyors believe in this charming

cafeteria-style eatery so much that several farms now plant certain crops at the specific request of Balistreri and Brandenburg. As such, the finest heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, figs, watermelons, squash, beets and herbs find their way into assorted soups, salads, sandwiches and warm square-meal-style plates including grilled and braised proteins such as flank steak, free-range chicken, lamb chops and locally caught albacore. House-cured meats (bacon, prosciutto, bresaola, capicola, speck) and lovely artisanal cheeses add tasty luxury to these comforting offerings, which are right at home beside Tender Greens’s delectable assortment of desserts—tarts, cakes, pies, ice cream, sorbets—all of which are made fresh from scratch daily by Brandenburg’s mother, Susan, and are based on each day’s harvest. Food this fresh, caringly prepared and delicious is enough to persuade naval recruits who swore they’d never endure another meal on the NTC grounds to make an about face and venture back, but all foodies, regardless of service records, are encouraged to double-time it over to this noble newcomer. —Brandon Hernández

A. R. Valentien The Lodge at Torrey Pines 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd. La Jolla 858-777-6635 When executive chef Jeff Jackson first arrived in San Diego, the dining scene was such that chefs developed menus only a few times a year and restaurants were considered the cream of the crop if they flew in outof-season ingredients from distant points of the globe. An admitted disciple of that previously standard way of thinking, Jackson was inspired to convert as soon as he feasted his eyes and palate on the bevy of delectable edibles available in his new backyard. Today, he and his kitchen brigade at A. R. Valentien, the fine dining venue of The Lodge at Torrey Pines, embody the Slow Food movement’s higher standards and consciousness and

devotion to seasonality and sustainability. The tight relationships Jackson fostered with local farmers and ranchers many years ago are still intact and flourishing to the point where each day’s menu is based solely on what comes in from esteemed operations like Brandt Beef, La Milpa Organica, Crows Pass, Sage Mountain Farm and Catalina Off-Shore Products. Jackson sees it as his personal mission (as well as the mission of his fellow San Diego chefs) to keep the local food source engine running. As such, he not only utilizes the harvest from local farms and ranches, he also provides his purveyors a stage on which to shine at The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ annual Celebrate the Craft event. Here, farmers, ranchers and artisans (cheese makers, winemakers, brewers, etc.) are able to display their wares and meet local chefs and the public at large on a major scale. Such dedication has reaped its fair share of rewards. A. R. Valentien has come to stand as a beacon of tasty nobility for local and out-of-town foodies alike and also garnered top honors from publications and organizations across the nation. —Brandon Hernández

Winter 2009 Winter 2009


Know of a restaurant or chef you think deserves recognition? Tell us why at Market Restaurant + Bar 3702 Via de la Valle Del Mar 858-523-0007 It’s not very PC to say so, but Carl Schroeder of Market Restaurant + Bar doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about sustainability.

Sea Rocket Bistro 3382 30th St. North Park 619-255-7049 Sea Rocket Bistro’s owners Dennis Stein and Elena Rivellino’s commitment to connecting eaters with local food was immediately apparent when the restaurant’s doors first opened in summer 2008. On the walls of their North Park space, formerly occupied by The Linkery, they hung photos of the people and places behind the food on our plates: portraits of the fishermen and farmers who harvest the local ingredients that make up the restaurant’s farm- and sea-to-table menu. San Diego’s finest local and sustainable seafood, including sea urchins, sardines and lobster, are ably prepared by Chef Christy Samoy; the menu changes seasonally to reflect what’s freshest and best. Sea Rocket’s well-written, thoughtful website lists all of their sustainable-minded efforts, from working with a local recycling company to composting for a nearby school garden. There’s even an online food map that charts the locations of all their local sources, from salt to seafood, beer and wine. The restaurant has also become a hub and community center for the neighborhood, screening food documentaries at their communal dining table and hosting events for various local groups. —Candice Woo


Winter 2009 edible San Diego

What he is thinking about is flavor. “I love the idea of sustainability, but what really drives me is getting the best product I can,” Schroeder says. “If it’s organic and sustainable and stringy and bitter, then who cares? My business doesn’t stay open unless I deliver quality every time.” The fact that he runs a kitchen that relies on great local produce is a by-product of his quest to offer the best-tasting and freshest vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses in his busy Del Mar restaurant. As he was honing his cooking skills with Bay Area chefs including Michael Mina and Bradley Ogden, Schroeder liked the way little farmers would pull into the parking lot and offer apples, parsnips or fingerling potatoes that were incredibly fresh. He says that it’s exciting to see the same thing happening here in San Diego. He loves going to Chino Farms to pick up Brussels sprouts, greens and butternut squash; Valdivia Farms for tomatoes and cucumbers; and he gets persimmons, heirloom apples and Satsuma tangerines from Lone Oak Farm in Fresno. “The best experiences I’ve had with food were standing in my granddad’s garden and picking a plum or some grapes and putting it in my mouth,” Schroeder says. “The closer I can get to that, the better someone’s experience will be.” —Maria Hunt

Ritual Tavern 4095 30th St. North Park 619-283-1720 When I want to introduce someone to good, honest food, I bring them to the Ritual Tavern. The cozy North Park restaurant is a place of the past, a quaint, husband-and-wiferun tavern that seems like it should be on a winding country road rather than on busy 30th Street. But the transporting setting is only half the charm—what I really come for is the food. The straightforward menu of old-fashioned comfort food pays homage to the pleasures of simply prepared, high-quality ingredients. This is homemade fare, the way tavern food used to

be. A piping hot shepherd’s pie—whether with Niman Ranch lamb or a vegan version with tofu—is hearty and warming, satisfying the soul as well as the stomach. A steaming bowl of local mussels simmered in draft beer is rich and satisfying, while a feisty bowl of gumbo can make you forget your cares. Order any dish that comes with a condiment, and you’ll discover the kitchen’s commitment to unprocessed foods. Ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and pickles are all made in-house, fueled by a determination to keep high-fructose corn syrup out of the kitchen. What isn’t made is procured from artisan producers, including Knight Salumi, Sadie Rose bakery and Caffé Calabria. Farmers and ranchers are listed on the menu, as if to give them just as much credit for the success of the meal. At the end of the evening, it’s easy to wonder why every meal can’t be like this—founded on honest ingredients, crafted with care and served in a welcoming setting. As a friendly face delivers the check—often owners Staci Wilkens or Mike Flores themselves— it’s easy to see how a single visit can easily turn into a ritual. —Lauren Duffy

The Linkery 3794 30th St. North Park 619-255-8778 If you have a conversation about farmto-table restaurants in San Diego, the Linkery will come up. In its nearly five years since opening, this North Park restaurant has paved the way for many other farm-to-table eateries that have sprung up around it. In fact, many Linkery alumni have gone on to open restaurants of their own. What makes the Linkery so essential to San Diego’s restaurant scene? Partly, it’s the persistence and determination of its owner, Jay Porter. When Porter opened the Linkery back in 2005, in the space that is now home to Sea Rocket Bistro, he immediately set out to source honest ingredients directly from the people who raised them. As it has from the beginning, the restaurant strictly sources pastured meat, produce from small farms and small-batch craft beer and wine. But another part is communication. From the start, nearly every decision that was made in the restaurant—whether to buy

meat from a certain farmer or use locally made hemp napkins—was blogged about, distributed by email and happily discussed by wait staff. The Linkery is determined to bring its customers into the picture—to serve as a link, if you will, between diners and the decisions made in raising, preparing and serving their food. In the years since opening, the Linkery’s goal has evolved into an ambitious one: “to become the best neighborhood restaurant in America.” But it is one they pursue with passion and a shared enthusiasm, and one that often results in stunning experiences for guests. In November, for example, they slow-roasted a whole pig procured from a Central Coast cheese farmer, who raised it and only six others on a diet of whey and acorns. Admittedly, this quest for the ideal often leads the Linkery outside of the community when it comes to sourcing ingredients. Rest assured, they buy plenty of produce from home, but they are not content to stop where our foodshed ends. Instead, they wander with wide arms and open eyes for, in Porter’s words, any food “grown by real people, crafted by passionate hands.” From this perspective, the restaurant serves not only as a link but a portal—one that allows locals to explore honest food from other areas of the country without ever leaving town. —Lauren Duffy

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Conversations for the Table

The National School Lunch Program By Jill Richardson The National School Lunch Program is probably the largest example of the federal government having a say in what American children eat. We assume that schools act in children’s best interest, but in the case of school lunch, sometimes this is not so. While some schools provide healthful, fulfilling lunches for students, others offer up nutritionally lacking options like corn dogs, tater tots, fries and French toast sticks. The good news is that school lunch is up for its once-every-five-years makeover, so now is our chance to make it better. The bill authorizing school lunch is called the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and it was due to be passed by September 30, 2009. Unable to finish the bill on time, Congress passed a temporary extension. The timeline for passing the bill is uncertain, but what is certain is that now is the time for action. Here are the basics you need to know to effectively call or write your Representative and Senators to ask them for school lunch reform.

The Reimbursement Rate When children from low-income families qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch, the federal government reimburses schools a certain amount of money for each lunch served. That’s called the reimbursement rate. The rate is divided into cash and commodities. The commodities are food like milk or meat that are purchased by the federal government as a form of agriculture subsidy and then provided to schools for free. The free commodities supplement the money given to the schools to buy everything else they need (including equipment, supplies and labor in addition to food). Currently the reimbursement rate is around $2.70 per lunch (with only about $1 of that going to purchase food).

It is a sad comment on how poorly we fund our schools that schools must [pit] the health of the students against the financial needs of the school.

A low reimbursement rate makes it difficult for schools to serve healthy lunches for two reasons. First, healthy foods are often more expensive than unhealthy ones. While many point to agricultural subsidies that make unhealthy foods artificially cheap as the cause, another reason is the simple fact that healthy foods are often perishable (think fresh berries or leafy greens). Second, because each lunch contributes so little to covering overhead costs, schools are 16

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pressured to sell as many lunches as possible. Even if a healthy lunch costs the same as an unhealthy one—let’s say pasta primavera and salad vs. chicken fingers and onion rings—the school may opt for the unhealthy choice because more children will eat it. How much should the reimbursement rate be? The School Nutrition Association has asked for an extra $.35 per lunch, but legendary chef Alice Waters calls for a rate of $5 per lunch (nearly double the current rate). Doubling school lunch spending may sound crazy, until you hear that other countries like France, Italy and Japan all spend at least that much, and each of those countries serves relatively healthy lunches. Renegade lunch lady Ann Cooper, an expert in providing healthy school lunches to children, also calls for a reimbursement rate of $4 to $5, depending on cost of living, with $1.75 going to purchase food.

Americans tend to view anything that costs taxpayer dollars as an expenditure, but in the case of school lunch, it is an investment.

Competitive Foods The food sold in schools is divided into two categories: the federally reimbursable school lunch, and everything else. The “everything else” is referred to as competitive foods because they compete with the school lunch for children’s money and appetites. While strict rules govern the nutrition of the federally reimbursable school lunch, competitive foods are, more or less, a free for all. The good news is that a bill is already in Congress—the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act—instructing the USDA to update the rules on what’s not allowed in schools based on current nutritional knowledge.

Pouring Rights Competitive foods get even worse when schools sign pouring rights contracts with soft drink companies to exclusively sell their products. The companies give the schools kickbacks—the more they sell, the more money they get. It is a sad comment on how poorly we fund our schools (and value our children) that schools must resort to such measures, directly pitting the health of the students against the financial needs of the school. I’d like to see pouring rights contracts made illegal (and schools properly funded!).

Equipment One problem with preparing healthful, tasty school lunches is a lack of kitchen equipment. With little more than a reheating center, many schools’ abilities to prepare food is limited to pre-washed and pre-cut finger foods or microwave meals they can heat up. In previous efforts to stretch their limited budgets without cutting back on teachers or books, some schools have ripped out their kitchens and some newer schools have been built without kitchens. So far, Congress has addressed this by providing grants to schools that wish to buy new equipment. This seems like a great approach—one that we should ask them to continue (and to fund generously!).

used in school lunches, even children who bring their lunch from home or who tolerate artificial food dyes without a problem will suffer as their teachers’ attention will be focused on the children who are unable to sit still after eating their school lunch. Food companies have successfully replaced these dyes in their products in other countries. It should not be too much to ask them to do the same for all food sold in school cafeterias. School lunch has the potential to support our nation’s best farmers while providing children with the foundations to good health and nutritious eating habits and ensuring they are able to concentrate in class because they are well fed. Americans tend to view anything that costs taxpayer dollars as an expenditure, but in the case of school lunch, it is an investment. The money spent is not money lost, and our country will receive direct benefits in the future by spending enough money to feed schoolchildren well. Conversely, spending the bare minimum to feed children nutritionally marginal food is not only counterproductive to their health and learning—it is unconscionable. San Diego is lucky to have a Congresswoman (Rep. Susan Davis) on the House Education and Labor Committee, the committee that will write the child nutrition bill, so we should speak up loudly before it’s too late. If we don’t, we’ll have to wait another five years for our next chance.

Jill Richardson is a San Diego–based freelance writer. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do To Fix It and the founder of the blog

Residents of California’s 53rd congressional district can contact Rep. Susan Davis at

Artificial Food Dyes Artificial food dyes (such as Yellow 5 or Red 40) are scientifically linked to behavioral problems in children. In fact, some countries ban them. Yet, they remain legal and even common in foods in the United States, including foods served in schools. It seems counterproductive to serve schoolchildren substances that are proven to make some of them less able to learn. If artificial food dyes are

Winter 2009


In the Kitchen

The Creation of Cooks Confab

Photographs: Boyd Harris Photography

By Brandon Hernández

There is strength in numbers. The clearest evidence of this in San Diego’s culinary scene is a band of 15 talented chefs dubbed the Cooks Confab. Hailing from locations scattered throughout the county and bound together by remarkably noble food ideals, the Confab and their collaborative food-focused events are opening eyes, broadening minds and delighting palates on a colossal scale while slowly but surely luring the national epicurean spotlight toward America’s Finest City. What’s perhaps most inspiring is the fact that the tools the Confab has used to realize these ambitious feats—food and their shared passion for it—are the very things that first brought them together. It’s a full-circle progression that’s benefitting every faction in an orbital chain that includes the farmers, ranchers and artisans who produce our local bounty and the dining public who feast on those pristine edibles at the Confab’s events and its members’ eateries.


Winter 2009 edible San Diego

This grand scale success is far more than any of the chefs could have envisioned at the group’s inception three years ago. Back then, forward-thinking events, mission statements and community advocacy were the stuff of hypothetical chats and pie-in-the-sky daydreams. These chefs most certainly did not set out to become trailblazers. “In the beginning, we were a drinking club with a cooking problem,” says Andrew Spurgin, chef/director at Waters Fine Catering, who has fond memories of talking shop and quaffing many a fine beverage in the wee hours of the morning with his buddies, chefs Christian Graves (Jsix), Antonio Friscia (Stingaree) and Brian Sinnott (1500 Ocean) in the group’s earliest days. Going out for drinks after service is a time-honored practice among chefs. Those who belong to such a nocturnal vocational sect naturally gravitate to others sharing their uncommon work schedule.

As such, it wasn’t long before the group was joined by other colleagues and new blood was added into the mix. Soon, the “club,” which started meeting with great frequency, stood at a hefty dozen—a number at or near the maximum capacity for some of the tiny off-radar bars and niche restaurants they frequented. It was in those early days and early morning hours, over countless conversations, libations, hijinks and laughs that the deep friendships and respect at the Confab’s core were solidified. That kinship soon led them back to their natural habitat, the kitchen, where they began cooking together. On top of chowing down on inspired dishes, the chefs were able to learn from each other, picking up techniques to add to their individual repertoires. That most delectable brand of symbiosis inspired Spurgin’s wife, Heidi, to coin a moniker for the theretofore nameless assemblage: Cooks Confab. “A confab is a discussion between individuals

So, in November 2006, Graves hosted the Confab’s first public event at Jsix, a white truffle dinner that featured the lush earthen core ingredient in six uniquely diverse permutations. Though the event was completely “underground” in nature, it drew a number of epicures in the know, all of whom left with satisfied appetites, galvanized taste buds and a juicy bit of gossip for their foodie friends. It was over six months before the Confab held another event (a multi-course dinner consisting solely of raw ingredients), but by that time, word had spread. Attendance numbers were up and soon, thanks largely to online culinary networking sites, the Confab had gained a fervent cult following. More dinners followed, each featuring a different central ingredient—typically something rare, unique or little-known like foie gras or game. Even when the ingredient was something more typical, like cheese, poultry or seafood, the chefs went to lengths to use less popular varieties and cooking techniques in an attempt to educate diners and expand their palates.

Photographs: Boyd Harris Photography

The Confab strives to shine a light on honest, extraordinary edibles and the hardworking people who bring them to market.

sharing similar thoughts and ideas on a subject,” explains Graves, who shared the opinion that, given the immense amount of gastronomic talent the Confab boasted, it seemed wrong to keep the inventive recipes and flavor combinations they were developing to themselves. Food is edible art and, like any artist, the chefs wanted to share their creations with the outside world.

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The Confablieri Andrew Spurgin Executive Chef/Director Waters Fine Catering/ Waters Fine Foods To Go Christian Graves Executive Chef Jsix Restaurant & Bar Antonio Friscia Executive Chef Stingaree Brian Sinnott Chef de Cuisine 1500 Ocean Jeff Jackson Executive Chef A. R. Valentien The Cooks Confab: Nathan Coulon, Tim Kolanko, Jeff Jackson, Andrew Spurgin, Paul McCabe, Brian Sinnott, Olivier Bioteau, Donald Coffman, Katie Grebow, Jason Knibb, Amy DiBiase and Antonio Friscia.

“When you love food as much as we do, it’s impossible not to want to put it in peoples’ mouths,” says Spurgin. “It’s like if you have two great friends, Bob and Jane. Naturally, you want to introduce all of your friends to them. For us, Bob and Jane might be beef tongue or something else they’ve never eaten and we want to introduce diners to that and show them how good certain foods they’ve never thought of or tried can be.”

“You don’t see this in other cities … chefs working with their competitors and helping each other out the way we do”

The open format of the Confab’s events provided the chefs with visibility and, more importantly, the ability to chat with guests. Soon, repeat customers felt comfortable approaching them and asking them questions about the food and its origins. The chefs recognized this comfortable two-way communication as an ideal outlet for not only informing guests about their food, cooking styles and restaurants, but also telling them all about a number of quality local purveyors and important issues and causes close to their hearts.

It became clear that they had a chance to make a difference in their hometown and they seized it with 30 hands. Making the most of such an opportunity required getting organized, so the Confab started having regular meetings and designated their original members—Spurgin, Graves, Friscia and Sinnott—to help nail down the group’s goals and the best methods for realizing them. First and foremost, the Confab strives to shine a light on honest, extraordinary edibles and the hardworking people who bring them to market. Each event features meats, cheeses, produce and beverages from suppliers the chefs believe in, but rather than simply call up sales reps for those providers, the group goes a step further, venturing out on their days off to visit the operations, tour their facilities, learn about their philosophies, and meet and form bonds with the dedicated individuals behind the businesses. “The field trip element is a crucial component of what we’re trying to accomplish. After driving out to a farm, you get a shot in the arm and are even more invigorated to take whatever the ‘it’ is, whether it’s meat, pig or craft beer, and treat it properly and with reverence and showcase it to its full potential,” says Spurgin, who in the past year has set up trips to Brandt Beef, Nathan’s Japatul Ranch, the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and a number of San Diego County craft breweries. 20

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Jason Knibb Executive Chef NINE-TEN Amy DiBiase Executive Chef Roseville Paul McCabe Executive Chef KITCHEN 1540 Timothy Kolanko Chef de Cuisine A. R. Valentien Olivier Bioteau Executive Chef Farm House Café Nathan Coulon Executive Chef Quarter Kitchen Katie Grebow Executive Chef Café Chloe Trey Foshee Executive Chef George’s California Modern Donald Coffman Co-Executive Chef Waters Fine Catering/ Waters Fine Food To Go Jack Fisher Executive Chef Jack Fisher Confections

The fact that the Confab has been able to demystify such a broad range of ingredients, particularly those of a high-end variety using gourmet preparations, without the air of pretention that typically accompanies them and serves to create a disconnect between diners and cuisine, is a testament to the collective authenticity that drives these chefs. They are true to the food, true to themselves, and in this thing together. “You don’t see this in other cities … chefs working with their competitors and helping each other out the way we do,” says Graves, pointing to more cutthroat culinary communities like San Francisco and Chicago. “Anybody in the country could have done this,” adds Spurgin. “We just happened to have the right message in the right place at the right time.” The time is now and that magical place is San Diego. The Confab’s presence and constant evolution have had an unmistakably positive effect spanning beyond this elite faction. Their efforts, practices, ideologies and accomplishments have influenced chefs and diners across the county, advancing San Diego’s culinary culture by leaps and bounds. Best of all, the Confab shows no signs of slowing down. The sky is truly the limit for this ambitious alliance. For more information on Cooks Confab’s mission, chefs and events, check out

Brandon Hernández is a native San Diegan with a passion for the culinary arts and the local dining scene. He has been featured numerous times on the Food Network program Emeril Live; contributed to various national and local magazines, newspapers and websites; and authored or co-authored several cookbooks. He welcomes questions, comments and general conversation at You can also follow and friend him via and

Winter 2009


Meat Gets Local

A Growing Demand for Local Protein Sparks a Comeback By Caron Golden

You don’t want to know. You should know, but really, the sight of how most commercially raised cattle, pigs and chickens are grown and kept, then slaughtered, is beyond what any of us can look at. Which may be why the vast majority of Americans still buy commercially grown—and, really, not all that tasty—meat at supermarkets. But creeping up slowly and steadily is a demand for beef, pork and poultry that has been humanely raised without hormones or antibiotics. Restaurants like O’Brothers, The Linkery, Rimel’s Rotisserie, Starlite and Kitchen 1540 are making a point of having farm-raised meats on their menus. And visits to some of San Diego’s farmers’ markets— where shoppers are eagerly buying up chicken, pork, beef and lamb sold by farmers like Curtis Womach and Dave Heafner—demonstrate that the demand for humanely raised meat is being met by local farmers and ranchers. In fact, thanks to growing interest in local, humanely raised meat, we’re seeing the beginnings of a resurgence of animal agriculture in San Diego and surrounding Riverside and Imperial counties. Drive out to Ramona and other backcountry areas and you’ll see cattle grazing in pastures along the road. But even beyond these backyard growers are farmers who are taking their meat to the public. And, they’re worth watching as forecasters of things to come.

Where’s the Beef? It’s commonly said that cattle can’t be raised in San Diego. It’s too dry and we don’t have the rainfall to grow sufficient grasses to feed, much less fatten, cows. Well, you have to take a drive up to Palomar Mountain and see the vast pastures alive with clover and alfalfa being grazed by herds of Black and Red Angus cattle to understand just how wrong that notion is. Mendenhall Valley, which sits below the Palomar Observatory, is about an hour-and-a-half drive from central San Diego and a good 6,000 feet in altitude, meaning it gets an average of 60 inches of rain annually, according to rancher Joel Mendenhall. It was first settled by his ancestor Enos T. Mendenhall, who made his way down from Oregon via San Francisco during the gold rush of the 1840s. “There were rustlers in the area who kept the cattle they stole in Palomar Mountain, where no one could find them,” says Frank Mendenhall, Joel’s father. “Enos worked for the Feds to get rid of the rustlers. He got his brothers and son to come down to homestead. Back then you could pay for land off the cattle. The industry then was geared toward hides, tallow and jerky because of a lack of population. Back then, without refrigeration, you needed a local market for meat and it just wasn’t there.” The Mendenhall family did eventually raise their cattle for meat; however, in the 1960s, the lands they owned were heavily taxed

“Given what’s been going on with beef, it’s all about trust and transparency.” 22

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by San Diego County as a way to break them up for development, Frank says. “We originally had 28,000 acres, but in the early 1960s I saw my dad’s tax bill for $29,000,” Frank recalls. “A good living was $10,000 to $15,000 a year, so there was no way you could keep up with it.” The family sold off all but 150 acres, saved only by the Williamson Act, officially known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, which provided property tax relief to owners of farmland and open space in exchange for a 10-year agreement not to develop the land. According to Frank, it was directed at keeping farmers in the Central Valley intact, but had the residual benefit of allowing remaining ranchers to survive. That now includes Joel, a sixth-generation rancher and the business partner of restaurateur Matt Rimel (Zenbu, Rimel’s Rotisserie) in Homegrown Meats. He lives on the ranch with his wife and twin baby girls. While Rimel runs his restaurants, the La Jolla Butcher Shop and Homegrown Meats’s day-to-day business operations, Joel Mendenhall is outdoors managing the ranch, buying cattle, repairing fences and generally overseeing the management of the cattle. The Mendenhall family partners in about 800 acres and they lease about 7,500 acres from the Vista Irrigation District. They also enjoy a cooperative relationship with neighboring rancher Rob Fink, who has 26,000 acres, and are forming cooperatives with other local ranchers. Altogether, you find their cattle roaming and grazing in meadows filled with sycamores, cottonwoods and Valparaiso oaks in Mesa Grande, Santa Isabel, Mendenhall Valley and Warner Valley around Lake Henshaw. Rimel and Mendenhall created Homegrown Meats with several other partners about a year and a half ago, and with it their La Jolla Butcher Shop. Their meat isn’t certified organic, but it is raised along organic precepts on certified organic grass, and is certified grassfed. Rimel’s most proud of the newest certification they received: “Animal Welfare Approved.” Each package of meat they sell will have this seal, issued by the Animal Welfare Institute, prominently displayed. And, that’s important because they’re about to go into business with Whole Foods, which wants to sell their ground beef and hot dogs.

and his brother Craig own O’Brothers, a hamburger eatery in Horton Plaza. O’Brothers’s twist is that everything on their menu is organic. And the ground meat they use for their burgers? It’s from Homegrown Meats. “We decided to go local because, along with staying organic, we’re cognizant of our carbon footprint,” Cowling explains. “It goes hand in hand. Even though the way we’re getting our beef is more expensive, Matt’s beef is raised only an hour and a half away. And, given what’s been going on with beef, it’s all about trust and transparency. Homegrown is living up to what they’re pitching.” Frank Mendenhall sees the partnership with Rimel as indicative of where the market is going for local, natural and organic meat. “It’s quite a trend. It costs more to do it, but people are willing to pay more for grass-fed, healthy meat than what you get in a McDonald’s burger. We’re hoping to position ourselves to where we can bring the cattle business back to San Diego County.”

Farmer Turned Rancher It may not quite be San Diego County, but close by, at Sage Mountain Farm near Hemet in Riverside County, is a familiar face to farmers’ market shoppers in San Diego: Phil Noble. Noble has been raising cattle for about nine years for family and friends. His small herd of 11 includes Herefords, Brangus (Brahmin and Angus cross), Guernseys and Holsteins. Now, he has decided to launch his own commercial cattle business. “It’s a natural progression for us,” Noble says. “We’ve always raised our own animals, but now we have an infusion of capital through a private investor so we can breed our own cattle and take them to market.” Matt Rimel and Joel Mendenhall with a new bull. Photo by Caron Golden

“I think this is even more important than grassfed or organic certification,” Rimel says. “For people who love to eat meat but don’t like the practices of the meat industry, that stamp will make a difference.” One restaurant owner who has found their business compelling is Derek Cowling. He

“We’re hoping to position ourselves to where we can bring the cattle business back to San Diego County.”

Winter 2009


They’ll be starting with 20 Black Angus calves. These cattle will have a different flavor profile than Homegrown Meats, given their diet. “These animals eat better than most people,” Noble says with a laugh. “Because we raise produce, they get a lot of our crop. They eat a lot of watermelon, eggplant, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. We let them eat crops of summer squash and our certified organic wheat.” Noble plans to sell the beef to his CSA members, at farmers’ markets and to restaurants. He already has relationships with several restaurants, including Sea Rocket Bistro and The Linkery, which buy his produce. Noble credits the farmers’ markets for giving him the opportunity to meet people and get the name out. He expects to experience the same success with his meat venture as he’s had with his produce, given the growing interest the public has in what they buy and eat. “People want to know where their food is coming from and are asking a lot more questions.”

Pastured Poultry Curtis Womach is the Hillcrest farmers’ market chicken guy. On any given Sunday you’ll find him with his coolers selling whole chickens, giblets, necks and even heads from what he raises at his 20-acre ranch, Womach Ranch Farms, in Julian. Womach started selling chickens just over a year ago. He started breeding Fast Cornish Cross, but has settled on the Slow Cornish Cross, which take 10 to 12 weeks to grow instead of the typical four to six weeks. These are active birds, he says, pastured—what some like to call free range—with access to half an acre of land their entire life. They eat combination of whatever they can scratch, along with organic corn, soybean and flax seed that Womach feeds them. Currently, Womach is selling 100 chickens a week at the market, along with turkeys for the holidays. This past year, he raised 120 Standard Bronze heritage turkeys. Looking ahead, Womach is also going to be selling goat meat. He’s already raising the goats and says he has a potential market in The Linkery. But, the challenge—truly the common theme when it comes to raising local meat—is the production part of it. “For me to sell goat at the farmers’ market would get expensive,” he says. “Riverside is the nearest USDA slaughterhouse in the area. I wish there were a local slaughter facility; that’s what the holdup is.”

The “Other” White Meat Walk up Date Street in Little Italy on a Saturday morning and you’ll be pulled into Dave Heafner’s booth by the seductive scent of grilled meat. Heafner, who owns Lake Elsinore–based Da-Le Ranch with his wife, Leslie Pesic, offers farm-raised chicken— Barred Rock, Australorps, Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds—and pork from his place, along with pastured beef and lamb from his partner in Paso Robles, where he takes his pork for production. Heafner, a Vietnam veteran and former financial consultant turned farmer, is honest about his land. “We live in mountain desert. It’s DG—decomposed granite,” he says ruefully. “I’ve got 22 acres and it’s hard as a rock in the summer and like quicksand in winter. ” So no cattle for him. Heafner describes the pigs he raises as “a melting pot of pigs, a smeltering pot of pork.” “Ours are all crossed with something. Originally we had two pure Yorkshire pigs, then we got a Hampshire. We crossed those and the meat was really good. Then we bought some Duroc and Old Spots. There are about seven breeds of pigs in our background.” Heafner feeds them on wheat flour, pig pellets and vegetables. They grow lean, but, depending on the breed mix, some will be longer in the loin for chops and tenderloin, while others will be fatter and perfect for sausage, bacon and hams. 24

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From top to bottom: Phil Noble, Curtis Womach, and Dave Heafner.

How sustainable is local meat, when the animals have to be schlepped hundreds of miles away for slaughter and then driven back for “local” consumption? If you enjoy Knight Salumi products, you’ve probably enjoyed DaLe pork. Rey Knight buys pork regularly from Heafner for his speck, pancetta and, even a boar sausage. “Rey selects his pigs, looking for a nice thick fat cap in back,” says Heafner. “Sometimes he’s looking for hams, sometimes for a long loin. He’ll pick them with different applications in mind.”

up until the 1970s—one in Escondido and four in National City.

Heafner’s chickens seem to have the run of the place, eating scratch, vegetables and—frustratingly—bugs, worms and flies in the flower beds, destroying them in the process. And, they adore the pigpens, since they naturally attract flies. “They make a beeline for them,” Heafner says.

And, they went out of business.

Closer to home in Alpine is Nathan’s Japatul Ranch, a porcine joint venture between Nathan Rakov, who owns the land, and Hanis Cavin, executive chef of Kensington Grill. They’re still not selling to the public, but that’s their goal. Those who feasted on Kitchen 1540’s pig at last October’s Cooks Confab got a taste of the future. The pig came from Rakov and Cavin’s ranch. The men are raising a Duroc Berkshire mix, feeding them mash from local breweries and greenwaste from seven restaurants and Specialty Produce. They don’t have huge commercial plans in mind. Instead, they want to source their pigs to local restaurants. “We only want to be big enough for San Diego restaurants,” says Cavin. “Perhaps we’ll form a chef cooperative and then we’ll be totally farm to table.” The challenge, of course, is finding a way to have them slaughtered locally and legally. Cavin and Rakov have found a mobile slaughterhouse for sale and put a bid on it, but it would still require USDA certification and inspection.

The Missing Piece Talk to any of the farmers and ranchers growing animals for meat and invariably the conversation turns to what is politely referred to as “production.” There simply is none in San Diego for commercial meat. And, that’s the chicken and the egg conundrum for enjoying locally raised meat. After all, how sustainable is local meat, when the animals have to be schlepped hundreds of miles away for slaughter and then have the product driven back for “local” consumption? Jim Davis, president of the San Diego Imperial County Cattlemen’s Association, says that there were five slaughterhouses in San Diego County

“But then we had a basic change to the way the product was being processed by big commercial plants, where they improved the efficiency and could deliver cuts consumers desired at a better value than what local processors could do. They couldn’t compete.”

Because California gave up operating their own state inspections, all meat—with the exception of poultry, which receives a small farm poultry exemption—must go to a certified USDA facility. So, Rimel and Mendenhall have to drive their cattle up to BroPack in Pico Rivera, where Imperial County’s Brandt Beef also is processed. Dave Heafner has to drive his pigs up to Paso Robles. Phil Noble once had a mobile slaughterhouse come to his property to do the deed. But now that he’s selling to the public, he has to drive his cattle to Chino to a facility that’s USDA inspected and approved. And, even with consumer interest in local meat, the numbers just aren’t there for an investment in a local processing plant. The local Cattlemen’s Association has all of 35 members, and even including the many backyard and small ranchers, it still doesn’t make financial sense. “No one’s going to open a processing plant here unless there are sufficient animals to process,” says Eric Larsen, executive director of the San Diego Farm Bureau. “I don’t see where that’s going to change. There are some pockets of products, but overall on a scale of large industry, I don’t see an about-face in animal production. So much depends on economies of scale. I don’t know that there are the financial incentives to do this.”

But that equation could change within a few years. With a deal in the offing from Whole Foods, Rimel is hoping that it eventually will lead to demand on the order of 7,000 Animal Welfare Approved audits head a year for all 34 of their California stores. “If Whole and certifies family farms that Foods starts cranking, we could consider building an allraise their animals with the highest natural plant,” Rimel says. “That would be an investment welfare standards. AWA is the only of about $10 million, but we’d be open to everyone in certification program requiring the area who met our criteria.” animals to be raised outdoors, on pasture or range. Continuously ranked as the “most stringent” of all third-party certifiers by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Animal Welfare Approved benefits farmers, animals and consumers alike with the simple philosophy that our own best interests are intrinsically linked to animals and to the environment we share.

“The key,” says Joel Mendenhall, “is to make it as affordable as possible but stay out of mass production.” And that could be a game changer for the meat industry in San Diego. Caron Golden is an award-winning freelance writer whose work appears in Saveur, Culinate, and her blog, San Diego Foodstuff. She is a food columnist for and a regular guest on KPBS radio’s “These Days.”

Winter 2009



The Road from Field to Restaurant Runs Through Crows Pass Story and Photos by Candice Woo By his estimate, Dave Barnes of Crows Pass Farms in Temecula spends a solid 20 hours a week behind the wheel of his refrigerated van, making biweekly deliveries of local organic produce to most of San Diego’s top farm-to-table restaurants, such as Nine-Ten in La Jolla and Hotel Del Coronado’s 1500 Ocean. His partner and wife, Tina, covers their North County restaurants, including A. R. Valentien and Kitchen 1540 in Del Mar, with occasional deliveries up to Los Angeles. Dave and Tina are farmers first, and have been cultivating their parcel of land in the heart of Temecula wine country for almost 19 years, but the last five of those have been spent building a successful farm-torestaurant distribution business, helping make connections between local family farms like theirs and locally and seasonally minded chefs. On a sunny late October morning, I meet Dave in a parking lot just off I-15 in Temecula and hop into his pickup for a day of meeting the local farmers who are part of his small distribution system. As we bump along the roads winding up the lush hillside above Fallbrook to Cunningham Organics, Dave tells me about his own family’s history and how he moved to Temecula in his teens, when his parents bought 70 acres to grow grapes for local wineries. His mother, brother and his own immediate family still live in houses on the family’s current 40-acre compound. After getting an agricultural business degree at Cal Poly Pomona and spending a year traveling in New Zealand, Dave came home to do what he had always wanted to do: farm. While working for the California Avocado Commission, he met George Starlite Chef Marguerite Grifka receives a delivery from Dave Barnes. 26

Winter 2009 edible San Diego

Buddha’s hands growing on the Cunningham farm.

Cunningham. George and his wife, Gale, started their organic fruit farm some 35 years ago, and now produce so much volume that in addition to local farmers’ markets and grocery stores, they also sell to distributors in the Bay Area and Oregon. A gentleman in every sense of the word, George became a mentor, teaching Dave how to properly build soil and exercise patience by not picking a single thing before it’s ready to harvest. A trained dowser, or “water witch,” George maintains his land with well water and also keeps bees. The microclimate around the Cunningham farm is semi-tropical, enabling them to grow a dizzying array of fruit: citrus including Meiwa kumquats and Meyer lemons, and exotics like cherimoyas, persimmons and pomegranates. There are even a few banana trees sprinkled about. It feels more like a heavenly fruit forest than the bustling farm it is; I’m so enchanted that I wonder if they’d notice if I snuck back in and pitched a tent amidst the tangerine trees. Most bizarrely beautiful are the Buddha’s hands, multi-fingered citrus that hang heavily from their branches like strange, alien octopi. When George takes Dave and me on a short ride through their avocado grove, the perfume from one of these citrus fruit infuses the air inside the car with its powerful, almost floral, aroma. From the Cunninghams’, we head down into the Temecula Valley towards Dave’s farm, Crows Pass, located in a prime spot just off the main wine country drag. Close to 20 years ago, the Barnes family switched from growing grapes to growing food, or what Dave calls “fruit and fungus”—cultivated wild mushrooms and Chandler strawberries, which he’s still known for; they’re considered the most delicious, and delicate, of varieties. For 14 years, Dave and his wife, Tina, sold their produce at area farmers’ markets, where they would meet local chefs shopping for themselves or their own restaurants. Two of their most frequent customers were Michael Stebner and Jack Fisher, founding chefs from the groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurant Region, in Hillcrest. They bought so often that they asked Dave if he would start delivering directly to their restaurant. He did, and slowly word spread to the chef community. When Region regrettably shuttered, many of their chefs moved on to other kitchens and took their love of locally farmed produce, and their relationship with Crows Pass, with them. Weary from their loss of weekends, and with two young boys at home, Dave and Tina eventually quit doing farmers’ markets to focus on their growing farm-to-restaurant program.

When we get to the house, there are voicemail messages left by a few chefs, including Spencer Johnston of The Pearl, who have received an email from Dave with a list of available produce and are placing their orders for the next day’s deliveries. Dave acknowledges that market-driven chefs need to be a little more flexible with their menus than their counterparts who work with large food-service companies, but he and the other experienced farmers have plotted each season carefully, meeting before each planting to make sure that they have a complementary, and fairly comprehensive, assortment. They harvest, or pick up, everyone’s order just before it gets packed and organized in their garage, which houses a produce cooler, working late into the night and getting up early the next morning. A farmer always has something more to do; in the driveway there’s a bucket of clam and mussel shells, collected from a recent local farm dinner at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, that Dave had been crushing into powder to amend his soil. We set out on a walk through his property. In every direction I see different fields growing different produce. The sunny days and cold nights allow him to grow great-tasting apples, from Fuji, Gala and Granny Smith to a Japanese variety called Sekai Ichi. The last of the season’s squash, including Tahitian squash that looks a bit like Butternut but is even sweeter and thin-skinned, creamy-flesh Delicatas, a favorite of his sons, are still on their vines, nestled in the ground. After they’re harvested, this patch of land will be left to lie fallow for a season before being replanted. Dave stresses that good farming necessitates that you don’t overwork the land, and always put more into it than you take out, whether mulching with wood chips to help save water or adding compost to augment the soil quality. What seems to give him the most pleasure is growing special items for chefs. We walk by a line of Shishito pepper plants done for Chef

Winter 2009


The next day, I meet up with Dave at Starlite, midway through his weekly Thursday rounds. He’d already delivered to Blind Lady Ale House and North Park’s Ritual Tavern and Sea Rocket Bistro, and was coming from his Gaslamp drop-offs to area restaurants including Stingaree and Quarter Kitchen. His truck is decorated with the logo of Crows Pass Farm, named for the crows that fly over the farm at sunset to roost in neighboring vineyards until daybreak, and with this quote to live by: “Eat something good tonight.” I help unload the truck and bring in the produce for Starlite’s Chef Marguerite Grifka.

George and Gale Cunningham

Christian Graves of Jsix, and a row of twice-planted Temecula honey onions, an experiment for Whisknladle. He’s even grown hops for Vinnie Cilurzo, now of Russian River Brewing Company, who grew up in a Temecula winemaking family; his first brewery, called the Blind Pig, was located in the Valley. Dave is most excited about his success with the Pakistani mulberry. His collection of trees produces finger-length fruit of such incomparable sweetness that they’ll surely show up in restaurants come next season. In a sparkling clean converted shed-turned-kitchen, they also operate a growing specialty food business, making mushroom-stuffed filo packages called Mushroom Drops. Though they now use locally grown mushrooms from Mountain Meadow Mushrooms, the idea for the appetizers stemmed from Crows Pass’s farmers’ market days, when Dave came back from a rained-out market with pounds of unsold Portobello mushrooms and needed to find something to do with them. Though he’s definitely a farmer at heart, Dave also has a head for business, a head that’s filled with all kinds of ideas for future farm-related projects, including a produce stand on the property and a restaurant. The long communal table on the back porch of his home has already played host to a number of local guest chefs, who come up to cook for special benefit dinners and vintner events. By the time we’ve made a loop of the farm, Andrea Peterson has arrived to drop off her portion of tomorrow’s deliveries. A busy grandmother, she’s run her 13-acre farm, Peterson Specialty Produce, just a few miles east of the Oceanside coast near Camp Pendleton, for 20 years. She also operates an inn on the property, the Blue Heron Farm Bed and Breakfast, and cooks meals for her guests from farm-fresh ingredients. Though she delivers her produce to some North County stores and sells at numerous farmers’ markets, she relies on Dave and Crows Pass to extend her reach into restaurants. Her eyes light up when I tell her that her justly famous baby lettuces are on the menus of the best eateries in town. Andrea, along with Crows Pass and Cunningham Organics, has always grown organically; not, as she says, solely for the health of her consumers and clients, but for the long-term health of the workers on her farm. 28

Winter 2009 edible San Diego

Back outside, I climb up into the truck’s cab and we’re off, on what Dave jokes will be the “grease trap and dumpster tour” of the best restaurants in town. As a frequent diner, I find it fascinating to see the restaurants from a different angle, and witness the rapport Dave has with many of the chefs, who are excited to reach into the bags and boxes for tastes of produce. We stop in at Tender Greens, whose chefs show us the new meat curing section of their walk-in refrigerator and send us off with watermelon lemonades for the road. We swing by JRDN in Pacific Beach, whose chefs save all of their kitchen’s greenwaste for Dave to take back to the farm; at The Fishery, Chef Paul Arias regularly donates fish waste to the same compost pile. For the rest of the day, I try to carry what I can and keep up with Dave’s pace. The hours are long and the work intense, but the Barneses try to get away for one dinner a month, so they can see how chefs honor and transform their produce and can experience the restaurants from the other side of the kitchen. At one of our final stops in La Jolla, Michelle Coulon Dessertier, we pick up mini-pies made with Andrea Peterson’s perfect raspberries. Crows Pass recently participated in a green restaurant event in Los Angeles, to which they would like to expand their deliveries, as well as possibly to Las Vegas. When I ask Dave if any of this growth will affect his network of local San Diego farm-to-table restaurants, he explains that he, and his other farm partners, all have much more land that has yet to be planted, and those inviting acres are just waiting for a thoughtful chef ’s special requests. Crows Pass Farm 39615 Berenda Road Temecula, CA 92591 951-676-8099

Candice Woo is an award-winning food and drink writer and regular contributor to Edible San Diego. She authors a weekly food news and restaurant review column in San Diego CityBeat. Candice also she serves as education co-chair on the board of Slow Food Urban San Diego, where she helps to create food enrichment classes and events, advises student Slow Food chapters and works towards bringing better food into local schools. Candice enjoys writing about the stories behind the food on our plates, and is particularly passionate about artisan food and craft beer. To talk food, write to Candice at

Liquid Assets

Forging a Wine Trail in Ramona Story and Photos by John AlongĂŠ

The Ramona Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), located 35 miles northeast of San Diego, encompasses 89,000 acres. The Valley is broad and flat, virtually ringed by hills that isolate it from surrounding atmospheric perturbations. It is currently home to 16 bonded wineries and more than 40 commercial vineyards with many more on the way, making it one of the most dynamic wine-producing regions in the United States. The Ramona Valley AVA was approved on January 6, 2006, announcing the serious commitment shared by Ramona grape growers and winemakers to producing quality wines in San Diego County. This approval was the result of a lot of hard work by the members of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (RVVA) and, in particular, RVVA member Carolyn Harris, who also serves as the de facto legal counsel for the organization.

What is an American Viticultural Area? On June 20, 1980, the U.S. government recognized the country’s first AVA in Augusta, Missouri. The intent was, on some level, to emulate the European system that links wine grapes to the geographical place where they are grown, establishing their unique characteristics based on their place of origin. Since then, more than 190 AVAs have been recognized all over the country. They vary tremendously in size, from the 26,000-square-mile Ohio River Valley AVA reaching over four states to the tiny Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, a mere 62 acres.

The AVA system, unlike its European counterparts, does not mandate such things as grape selection, method of vinification, crop yield and irrigation. This leaves a great deal of latitude to growers and winemakers. Consequently, the number of grape varieties grown here is substantial: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Grenache, Mission, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvedre, Barbera, Viognier, Nebbiolo and others. This, in turn, accounts for the incredible variety of wines produced here, each bearing the distinct character of the boutique producer making it. And boutique producers they are, in some cases micro-boutique producers. A good example is tiny Cactus Star Vineyard, owned by Joe and Becky Cullen. When the Cullens initially

Winter 2009


“A dynamic and successful wine region in the heart of San Diego County would be an economic stimulus for the area and a boon to local commerce.” purchased property in Ramona, their intent was to grow some grapes to make wine for their own consumption. Joe had been a longtime amateur winemaker, so he planted an acre of his land to Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. He quickly realized that he and his wife “couldn’t drink all that wine,” so he filed the necessary paperwork and posted $1,500 with federal and state authorities to become a bonded winery. Now, the Cullens produce almost 150 cases of wine a year, selling most of it through a few retail outlets and tasting events. “We’re not interested in having a tasting room,” explains Joe. “That would be too much extra work.” Many of the Ramona wineries, however, would most certainly like to have their own tasting rooms, allowing them to sell their wines directly to the public. Currently, this option is not available to them

without incurring the enormous cost of a major use permit. In an attempt to align the local situation with that of other California counties that freely allow and even encourage wineries to have tasting rooms, a group of Ramona wineries banded together to propose an ordinance to achieve this goal. This initiative, known as the Boutique Winery Ordinance, was submitted to the county supervisors thanks in large part to the efforts of RVVA member (and lawyer) Carolyn Harris of Chuparosa Vineyards. Initially approved by the supervisors, the ordinance was later overturned due to the threat of litigation by neighbors of some of the wineries. This prompted an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), funded by the county to the tune of $250,000. Once that EIR is finished and presented this spring, the supervisors will reconsider the initiative. Were the Boutique Winery Ordinance to be approved, the future could, indeed, be bright for the Ramona Valley AVA. A dynamic and successful wine region in the heart of San Diego County would be an economic stimulus for the area and a boon to local commerce, fueling ancillary service businesses. Many of the artisan grape growers and winemakers in the Ramona Valley share the vision of their valley carpeted with vineyards and populated with tasting rooms, a veritable San Diego County wine route. “We will be mediocre until we have established a wine trail here,” states Carolyn Harris emphatically. If enthusiasm is a meaningful barometer of the potential for success, then the Ramona Valley will indeed fulfill its destiny as a quality wine-producing area. The RVVA membership is working hard Pictured above: Rich McClellan, at left: Joe Cullen


Winter 2009 edible San Diego

at their craft and doing all the right things to achieve their goals. “We’re not just going to sell wine here,” says RVVA president and Highland Hills Vineyard owner Rich McClellan, “We want to sell the whole winery experience. We have a real focus on doing things right.”

Where To Taste and Buy Ramona Valley Wines Currently, there are only three retail outlets stocking a selection of Ramona Valley wines on a regular basis:

All in all, that’s excellent news for San Diego wine lovers.

Alternative Wines 13859 Carmel Valley Rd. San Diego, CA 92130 858-780-9463

John Alongé, known as The Wine Heretic, is a popular and entertaining speaker at corporate and private events all over the country. His latest book, The Wine Heretic’s Bible, offers “plain English advice for the casual wino.” He can be reached at

Country Cellars 4510 Highway 78 Julian, CA 92036 760-765-0089

Ramona Valley Wineries Cactus Star Vineyard Chuparosa Vineyards Eagles Nest Winery

Ramona Albertson’s 1459 Main St. Ramona, CA 92065 760-789-0023

One Ramona winery also has an Old Town tasting room: Hacienda de las Rosas Winery Fiesta de Reyes 2754 Calhoun St., Suite G Old Town 619-840-5579 San Diego County restaurants have been slow to embrace the emerging wines of the Ramona Valley. However, a good place to sample some by the glass or the bottle is: Barona Steakhouse Barona Resort & Casino 1932 Wildcat Canyon Rd. Lakeside, CA 92040 888-722-7662

Edwards Vineyard and Cellars (no website) Hacienda de las Rosas Winery Kohill Vineyard and Winery Lenora Winery Mahogany Mountain Vineyard and Winery Milagro Farm Vineyards and Winery Pamo Valley Winery Pyramid Vineyard Salerno Winery Schwaesdall Winery Woof ’n Rose Winery

Winter 2009


In Sight

Lured by Local Flavor By Dashielle Vawter Food has changed for me. My growing awareness that food matters has taken me from eating more vegetables to prioritizing all-local and organic food—even my meat, butter and eggs.

were unique and distinctive. There were also Jimmy Nardello and Padron peppers, little gem lettuces, arugula and pineapple guavas, the names as colorful as their skins and the farmers who sold them.

I remember defending the decision to my grandparents when I first spent some extra change buying organic produce. “Aren’t all vegetables organic?” my grandfather, who grew up on a farm, asked with a cheeky glimmer in his eye. Underlying his question was his belief that food is food; that a tomato is a tomato. This, I’ve come to find, is rarely the case.

Grocery shopping became fun. There was an adventure as foods I’d never seen before or varieties I’d never tasted emerged on the scene. The farmers fluctuated with the seasons, some staying on through the fall with canned offerings and harvests of late summer vegetables, others arriving in January.


Winter 2009 edible San Diego

Part of that is marketing, to be sure, but why does that message resonate with us? Why is it appealing to know where your food comes from, and perhaps that its flavor is unique or that it is grown most successfully in your own backyard? For me, I think eating food from the soil near where I live has become a part of how I live here, it has rooted me to this place. A lot of people are looking for roots these days, hungering for connection, seeking a meal that brings an experience of togetherness. Simply put, there is an anonymity to food that arrives in an a semi truck, the same food that is being delivered in the same trucks to every part of the country regardless of the time of year or what people from that area traditionally ate. It’s political, too; people are thinking more intentionally about what they put into their bodies, beginning to develop an awareness about what impact their food has on the environment, and then choosing to buy into a different system. While the grocery store is more convenient, food purchased at the grocery store travels and an average of 1,500 to 2,000 miles. An apple from Washington has 80 food calories, yet it takes 560 to 820 calories of energy to produce (not to mention the energy it takes to truck it to the grocery store where you purchase it).

Photograph: Emily W. Hung.

A few years ago, my roommates worked at a farmers’ market and one of the vendors needed some help on the weekends. The money added up to diddley squat, and the farmer turned out to be ornery as hell, but he also let me trade some of the slightly less aesthetic pears and apples to other vendors in exchange for what they produced. The last 15 minutes I would grab a big bag and start running around to the vendors I’d befriended, occasionally getting meat or butter and eggs, but mostly large bags of produce. I remember the tomatoes most: Early Girl tomatoes, lemon tomatoes, green zebra tomatoes, black rim tomatoes, rainbow tomatoes, pineapple tomatoes—I’d never seen so many different kinds of tomatoes in my life. The shapes, sizes, smells, textures and—as I would soon find out—flavors

Farmers gave me their favorite recipes, recipes that had been developed to showcase a unique flavor they were proud of. My old recipes took on new life. I began to notice, with pride, the same vegetables I had purchased showing up on the menus of trendy restaurants, with the farm’s name proudly mentioned in the description of the dish, as though to say this farm’s Padron peppers or broccoli rabe were the best.

Photograph: Emily W. Hung.

While the term local does primarily connote geographic proximity, the lower carbon footprint is not the only environmental benefit of local food. Local, organic farms can also provide much-needed wildlife habitat around cities. Though not all local food is organic, when it is, pesticides don’t go into your immediate environment.



When you eat local food, you support local business; you support habitat; you eat less carbon-intensively; you eat a greater variety of seasonal foods; your produce has greater nutritional value (many organic crops have a higher vitamin and mineral content than their commercial counterparts); and, hands down, my experience has been that it tastes better. Is a tomato a tomato? I now think a tomato is its soil, its water, its sun, the distance it travels from farm to plate, its variety, the oil used in its production, how it was stored, when it was picked and whether it was picked ripe. With everything going for it, the question is: Why aren’t more people prioritizing eating locally? And the answer, from most people I’ve spoken with, is convenience. Yet more and more people are realizing that eating locally doesn’t have to mean scheduling your week around the farmers’ markets. Grocery stores like OB People’s and Whole Foods stock great variety of local produce, and more stores are catching on as customers have begun to ask for it. These days you can even have a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box of local seasonal produce delivered to your house once a week and skip the grocery store for produce all together. Local and organic are also possible when eating out. A bevy of great restaurants such as Jsix, Sea Rocket Bistro and The Linkery have made names for themselves serving flavors that have stories, making diners feel good about eating out, and prioritizing organic and local. You don’t have to be a foodie, an agro-environmentalist or a peak-oil fanatic to think local food is where it’s at. What it comes down to is desiring a meaningful connection to what we nourish ourselves with and wanting to make choices that are beneficial for our health and the health of the environment. Let the taste convince you. I encourage you to buy two tomatoes—one local and organically grown, and one commercially grown—and do a taste test, or give a blind taste test to someone in your family. Let me know how it goes.

Dashielle Vawter is a writer, amateur photographer, adventurer, enjoyer of food and hapless gardener. She splits her time between San Diego and the Bay Area, where she is a graduate student of organizational systems at Saybrook University. She also writes a blog on practical spirituality,

Winter 2009


On the Radar a sampling of coming events Ecology of Soil: A Public Health Concern

An Evening of Culture & Cultivation

Tuesday January 12, 6:30 p.m. San Diego Natural History Museum, Balboa Park. Angie Tatow, a Food and Security Fellow at the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy explores how the health of our soil is linked to the health of our bodies as well as our planet. Part of the Natural History Museum’s Sustainable Planet: Food lecture series. $5, register at

Tuesday March 9, 6:30–8 p.m. San Diego Natural History Museum Join Seeds at City Urban Farm and San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project for an evening of celebration, education, and slow food focused on promoting a sustainable city. The evening includes a reception, a dinner showcasing local ingredients prepared by Spread, and a keynote lecture by author Lisa Hamilton. Tickets start at $85 and benefit the Seeds at City educational farm program. Register at

Solana Center Composting Workshop Saturday January 9, 8–10 a.m. Otto Center, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park Learn the basics and benefits of composting from a Solana Center Master Composter. Free, register at Solana Center Composting Workshop Saturday January 23, 10 a.m.–12 noon San Diego Botanic Gardens, Encinitas Learn the basics and benefits of composting from a Solana Center Master Composter. Free, register at

Class: Bye Bye Grass II Saturday March 13, 1–3 p.m. San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas This class is the second in a series of two taught by Nan Sterman that explain the steps of replacing your grass lawn. It focuses on installing a low-water garden and covers irrigation, plant selection, design and long term care. Members $45, non-members, $50; call the Water Conservation Garden to register: 619 660-0614 x10.

Winter Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop

Slow Foods: For Every Meal There Is a Season

Saturday February 27, 10:30 a.m.–12 noon Seeds at City Urban Farm, Downtown Join Julia Dashe and Paul Maschka for an educational workshop on winter fruit tree pruning. This workshop is part of a year-long food gardening workshop series at Seeds at City urban farm. $20 for the class or $160 for the series. Email to register.

Saturday March 13, 1:30–4 p.m. San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas This cooking class focuses on local, seasonal produce during the winter months. Learn to make cold-weather specialties such as potato soup with sausage and kale and easy apple tarts. Members $25, non-members $30, register at

Victory Gardens: Join the Garden Revolution

Master Gardener Spring Seminar

Tuesday March 2, 6:30–8 p.m. San Diego Natural History Museum Rose Hayden-Smith, Director of the University of California extension program looks at the growing trend of urban agriculture and at how the victory garden model can become a vital part of our food system. Part of the Natural History Museum’s Sustainable Planet: Food lecture series. $5, register at

Saturday March 27, 7:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. University of San Diego The 20th Annual San Diego Master Association Spring Home Gardening Seminar. More information at

For more events visit

Class: Bye Bye Grass I Monday March 8, 7–9 p.m. San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas Whether you’re tired of mowing or looking for a more sustainable landscape option, this two-part class can help you phase out grass and phase in a more waterfriendly yard. In this first class, local gardening expert Nan Sterman explains how to remove grass from your yard. Members $45, non-members, $50; call the Water Conservation Garden to register: 619 660-0614 x10. 34

Winter 2009 edible San Diego

WHERE YOU CAN FIND US You can find a complimentary copy of Edible San Diego at any of our advertisers and at local farmers markets. Other distribution spots are listed on Want to see us in your neighborhood? Contact us at

Advertiser Directory Anthony Imbimbo, CPA 619-497-1040 Bristol Bay Salmon Company 619-855-5332 JSix 619-531-8744 The Linkery 619-255-8778 Ritual Tavern 619-283-1720 Sea Rocket Bistro 619-255-7049 Slow Food San Diego, Urban San Diego and Temecula Valley Starlite 619-358-9766 Sun Grown 619-921-8135 Suzie’s Farm 619-921-8135 Tender Greens 619-226-6254 The Urban Seed 619-584-7768 Whole Foods Market 619-294-2800 858-642-6700­

Farmers’ Markets MONDAY Escondido—North 8860 Lawrence Welk Dr. off Old Hwy 395 1–5 p.m. (summer 3–7) 760-749-3000

TUESDAY Coronado Ferry Landing, First St. & B Ave. 2:30–6 p.m. 760-741-3763 Escondido E. Grand Ave. btw Juniper & Kalmia 3 – 6:30 p.m. 760-745-8877 Mira Mesa Mira Mesa High School 10510 Reagan Rd. 3–7 p.m. 858-272-7054 Otay Ranch—Chula Vista 2015 Birch Rd. and Eastlake Blvd. 4–8 p.m. (winter 4–7 p.m.) 619-279-0032 UCSD/La Jolla UCSD Campus, Town Square at Gilman/Meyers 10 a.m.–2 p.m. (Sept. to June) 858-534-4248

WEDNESDAY Carlsbad Roosevelt St. btw Grand Ave. & Carlsbad Village Dr. 1–5 p.m. 760-687-6453 Ocean Beach 4900 block of Newport Ave. 4–7 p.m. (summer 4–8 p.m.) 619-279-0032 San Marcos* 333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd. Parking Lot B 1–6 p.m. 760-751-4193

Santee 10445 Mission Gorge Rd. 3–7 p.m. 619-449-8427 Temecula 40820 Winchester Rd. btw Macy’s & JC Penney 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 760-728-7343 Tu Mercado University of San Diego Campus 5998 Alcalá Park btw Marian Way & Morris Dr. 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

THURSDAY Chula Vista Center St. off Third Ave. 3–7 p.m. (3–6 p.m. fall/winter) 619-422-1982 Horton Square San Diego 225 Broadway & Broadway Circle 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Mar–Oct only 760-741-3763 Lakeside* 9841 Vine St. Lindo Lake County Park 2–6 p.m. 760-745-3023 North Park CVS Pharmacy 3151 University & 32nd St. 3 p.m.–sunset (winter 2 p.m.–sunset) 619-237-1632 Oceanside Market & Faire Pier View Way & Coast Hwy. 101 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 619-440-5027 Oceanside Sunset Tremont & Pier View Way 5–9 p.m., (winter 4–8 p.m.) 760-754-4512 Tierrasanta De Portola Middle School 11010 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. & Santo Rd. 3–7 p.m. 858-272-7054

Valley Center * 28246 Lilac Rd. 1–6 p.m. 760-751-4193


City Heights* On Wightman St. btw Fairmount & 43rd St. 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 760-751-4193

Encinitas Flor Vista Elementary School 1690 Wandering Rd. 2–5 p.m. 760-687-6453

Borrego Springs Christmas Circle Comm. Park 7 a.m.–noon, Nov–Jun 760-767-5555

Del Mar 1050 Camino Del Mar 1–4 p.m. 760-519-1894

Fallbrook 139 S. Main 11 a.m.–3 p.m. 760-390-9726

Fallbrook 102 S. Main, at Alvarado 10 a.m.–2 p.m. 760-390-9726

Little Italy Mercato Date St. (India to Columbia) 9 a.m.–1:30 p.m. 619-233-3769

Gaslamp San Diego 400 block of Third Ave. 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 619-279-0032

Imperial Beach—Silver Strand Palm & Rainbow Ave. 2–7 p.m. (winter 2–6 p.m.) 619-981-4412

Pacific Beach 4150 Mission Blvd. 8 a.m.–noon 760-741-3763

La Mesa Village 8300 block of Allison Ave. 3–6 p.m. 619-440-5027

Poway Old Poway Park 14134 Midland Rd. at Temple 8–11:30 a.m. 619-440-5027

Hillcrest DMV parking lot 3960 Normal & Lincoln sts. 9 a.m.–2 p.m. 619-237-1632

Mission Valley East Westfield lot near Macy’s 3–7 p.m. 619-795-3363 Old Town San Diego State Historic Park Fiesta de Reyes, 2754 Calhoun St. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. 619-840-5579 Rancho Bernardo Bernardo Winery parking lot 13330 Paseo del Verano Norte 9 a.m.–noon 760-500-1709

SATURDAY Barrio Marketplace opens 3/20/10 2258 Island Ave. 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. 619-232-5181 Carlsbad Roosevelt St. btw Grand Ave. & Carlsbad Village Dr. 1–5 p.m. 760-687-6453

Ramona Collier County Park, 626 E St. 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. 760-788-1924 Scripps Ranch 10380 Spring Canyon Rd. & Scripps Poway Parkway 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 858-586-7933 Temecula Old Town Temecula Sixth & Front St. 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. 760-728-7343 Vista County Courthouse 325 Melrose Dr. 7:45–11 a.m. 760-945-7425

SUNDAY Bonsall River Village Shopping Center 5256 S. Mission Rd. at Hwy 76 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. 208-553-4700

Julian Wynola Farms Marketplace 4470 Hwy 78, 3 miles west of Julian 11 a.m.–4 p.m. 760-885-8364 La Jolla Open Aire Girard Ave. & Genter La Jolla Elem. School 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 858-454-1699 Leucadia/Encinitas 185 Union St. & Vulcan St. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. 858-272-7054 Point Loma opens 12/13/09 Liberty Station, 2728 Decatur Rd. 9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. 619-795-3363 Solana Beach 410 to 444 South Cedros Ave. 1–5 p.m. 858-755-0444 * Denotes markets accepting EBT or WIC. Please visit and click on “Resources” for more complete information and links to farmers’ market websites.

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Winter 2009 edible San Diego

Edible San Diego - Winter 2009 issue  

Meat Gets Local Farm-Driven Distribution Cooks Confab: Elevating Local Cuisine School Lunch Reform Winter Comfort Food Ramona Valley Winerie...