(One) Farm-to-Table: Courtney Guerra and Alma’s Ari Taymor on Farmer-Chef Monogamy (Article from BonAppetit.com)

Credit: Matt Duckor, Bon Appetit Assistant Editor

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I’m standing in front of a modest home in Venice, California. There’s a popular cafe down the street that serves sixteen different types of breakfast cereal and, behind the house, 1,000 square feet of white strawberries, scarlet frill mustard, and breakfast radishes. Venice is in Los Angeles, but this sure doesn’t feel like it.

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The greenhouse belongs to farmer Courtney Guerra, and the micro bronze fennel she’s growing is for Ari Taymor, the chef-owner of Alma.

“What size do you want for the micro?” asked Guerra.

“Micro what?”

“Bronze fennel. What presence do you want it to have on the dish?”

That’s exactly the sort of conversation Guerra hoped she’d have when she moved to Los Angeles.

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Formerly a cook and gardener at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, Guerra’s aim was to work closely with one L.A. restaurant, supplying it with produce. That exclusive relationship would allow her to focus on what the chef wants planted, when that chef wants it picked, and how much of it the chef needs, not to mention the unified flavor the comes from ingredients growing in the same patch of dirt. She had a friend in Venice who wasn’t using his yard–that is, “besides to store futons, trash and office furniture”–so she moved in and had the garden up and running in a matter of weeks.

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At first, Guerra says, she “felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, he will come.'” She didn’t have to wait long. This past Valentine’s Day (a coincidence, I’m told), she met Taymor through Rustic Canyon Wine Bar chef Jeremy Fox. The two clicked and quickly signed an exclusive contract.

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Only one dish on Alma’s menu is currently made up of Guerra exclusives: An early spring salad featuring frill mustard, buckwheat, pea trendril, among other things. But the plan is for everything to come from the garden by early next year. And then there are the snails. Guerra selects them in the morning and Taymor served them to you after being sautéed in garlic and butter at night. They are delicious and evidence that every restaurant should raise its own snails.

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While nearly every restaurant that opens its reclaimed wood doors these days preaches farm-to-table (and a handful of LA restaurants grow their own herbs and limited produce), none match the scope and ambition of Guerra and Taymor. In December, Fox told me he hoped to have a garden supply his restaurant like he had when he was chef atUbuntu, but that it was at least a few years off. While Guerra’s garden is perfect for the 30-seat Alma, it couldn’t exclusively support a high-volume restaurant. Not yet.

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So yes, this is new ground for L.A. “I try to explain to people people–not restaurant people–what it is I do here,” says Guerra. “I think when people see it, that we’ve taken nothing and turned it into a restaurant’s culinary garden, they’ll get that you don’t need two acres in Napa Valley to have something that works.”

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Still, expanding out of someone’s backyard would be nice. So Guerra and Taymor are looking up. Literally–they’re working on a 60,000 square-foot rooftop garden in downtown L.A., where Alma is located. That means more room for everything she plans on growing, including fava beans, Ryokuho broccoli, purple peacock broccoli, and sea kale. For now, I’ll settle for another order of snails and the best salad I’ve had all year.

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http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2013/03/alma-farm-venice-california.html

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~Harriet Tubman

Flower Ave Garden Project: RADish

We had our fist harvest of radish come out of the garden! They couldn’t be more beautiful. Just another sign that So Cal is going to be a perfect location for this culinary garden.

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One of the big advantages of a restaurant having their own garden, is they get to dictate what size they would like the radish harvested at. You can have itty bitty ones that make a delicate statement on a plate:

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Or you can have medium sized ones that have a little more ‘meat’ on their bones:

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Kris lives at the house and part of the perk of having a culinary garden in your front yard is access to fresh veggies!

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And to wrap up the day we had some neighbors visit. Courtney, baby Mika, and 7 year old Mark stopped by to check out the garden and ask questions. Come to find out that Courtney and her family are urban farmers as well! She told me they had a few things planted and grew edamame last season and it came out sweet and delicious. I sent them home with some fave bean starters, I hope they enjoy! I think it is a beautiful thing that Courtney is teaching her family what it looks (and tastes) like to grow your own food, they are the next generation of farmers this country needs! And baby Mika is obvy really in to fava beans 😉

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“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”

~Adlai Stevenson

Coastal Foraging In Southern California…(a.k.a. Going Coastal)

My job got a whole lot more awesome…if that’s even possible!

I set aside one day per work week completely devoted to foraging for Alma Restaurant. This usually involves going out into the wilderness somewhere to find edible items to bring back to Chef Taymor. This trip I went coastal 😉

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I had to head a bit north of LA; unfortunately much of the direct LA coast line is too polluted to forage. But venture a bit north of LA and the coastline is  very much alive and full of beautiful edible products. Like the sea grass growing here:

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I was amazed how many varieties of seaweed I encountered. Each having their own unique texture and flavors.

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Some were more briny than others, some were more tender and delicate. The  minerality of the seaweeds also varied depending on whether or not they were growing in sand or on rocks.

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Just as vegetables in the garden differ in size, flavor, and texture,  so too did the sea vegetables I harvested.

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I feel as if I have just discovered a whole new world in coastal foraging and I feel so blessed to live in such an abundant and fertile region of the US!

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~Marcel Proust

Flower Ave Garden Project: La Vicotria!

To some this may just look like an unassuming old jar of La Victoria salsa filled with some dried lawn clippings, but to me it is an act of kindheartedness and love!

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The story behind the little jar is this:

A few weeks ago a nice woman stopped by to admire the garden. She told me that she had a little space where a few herbs grew, but mostly it was overgrown with volunteer coriander (cilantro). I told her that I didn’t have any planted and she offered to bring me seeds from her plants. I completely forgot about the interaction until I came home the other day and found the jar full of coriander seeds waiting for me!

These will be a beautiful start to my herb garden. I don’t know if I will ever see the kind woman again to thank her and share the story behind the Flower Ave Garden. But I love that so many little stories like this are woven into the very essence of this place. It is quickly turning into sacred ground and is being built with love!

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any other human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

~Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

Foraging in Santa Barbara, CA

5am wake up calls are made less sucky if it means you get to forage in Santa Barbara all day. Having lived in Santa Barbara for almost 10 years, I have a pretty good lay of the land.

My first foraged item of the day were these beautiful apple succulent tips. These tiny little guys are just as their namesake; crisp, tart, and refreshing!

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Next up were these wild radish blossoms. Not only pretty, they add a nice spice as a garnish!

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There is a sloping hillside on the ranch that I foraged on, it is shaded and cool. Everything that grows in this area is lush and green. I was so excited to find these little fiddle head ferns along the base of the hillside!

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The climate couldn’t have been better, a mild 70 degrees in February. As the light shone through the canopy of trees, I came across a beautiful field of wild nasturtium.

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And adjacent to that was another field, full of wild New Zealand spinach (also known as Tetragonia tetragonioides). This is a beautiful field green, that is tender and crisp.

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Next stop was the top of the hill, overlooking the Pacific. Just a half mile up the road and the climate changed drastically from the shaded hillside. It was much warmer, and there was wild mustard everywhere!

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Even my dog Moo was getting in on the foraging action! Except I think he was trying to forage lizards :p

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We headed back down the hill to the Cherimoya orchards to look for some Santa Barbara snails!

Cerimoya are a beautiful fruit with white, candy-like flesh. They soften as they ripen, just like a banana.

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We also came across these almond blossoms. They smell sweet and almondy, just as you would expect the flower from this tree to be =]

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And finally…JACKPOT! We found our Santa Barbara escargot, fed off of organic cherimoya trees. Hopefully these guys will like their new digs in Venice.

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My car was packed to the brim with all of my foraged treasures. I’m so excited to share a piece of this beautiful place with diners in LA!…but not excited to get back to the traffic =-/

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“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharlal Nehru

Flower Ave Garden Project: Dammit Janet

This is Janet, and she’s totally awesome:

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Janet is a business owner who has a shop up the street from the garden, and goes for regular walks around the neighborhood. She was so excited and curious about the Flower Ave Garden; asking questions about everything I had planted. She was very supportive and encouraging, and told me how Korean cuisine uses amazing vegetables (I totally agree). I gave Janet some sugar snap peas as a thanks for all of the kindness =] Love ya Janet!

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
~Saint Basil

Flower Ave Garden Project: The Cover Up

Ground cover can be a gardeners best friend. It helps keep the soil warm and keeps pests away. And one of the biggest benefits to a culinary gardener is that it can keep the green tops of things like radishes nice and tender. This will make them a beautiful addition to a plate.

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One perk of being a culinary farmer is that you get hooked up with some seriously yummy food! I dropped off some Red Russian Kale to Chef Fox at Rustic Canyon, and came back with fresh ceviche and tortilla chips! YUM, thanks guys.

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I have been in Venice for about 6 weeks and am settling in nicely =]

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“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

~Paine