Thursday, January 3, 2013
So maybe you’ve heard of this place on the northernmost fringe of Salinas where a concerned community led by a former judge provides a path out of the court system for kids who have caught a bad break. At Rancho Cielo, the young adults take high school classes and receive vocational training on everything from greenskeeping to furniture making – construction apprentices are even building on-campus housing for some students to live in. They also play music and hoops in the shiny gym and fish widemouth bass at the R.C. lake.
My favorite part of the operation is the Drummond Culinary Academy, where kids study produce, meats and techniques with Executive Chef Paul Lee. Every Friday night, they plate their education with a prix fixe menu and often sold-out seatings overlooking the valley.
A recent menu included a wedge with Boggiatto’s baby iceberg and Baker’s Bacon, a mustard-crusted coho salmon fillet and a lime-and-white-chocolate tart. Dinners run $24-$30 (depending on the entree) for three courses, including service. Local wine from supporters like Paraiso and J. Lohr and beer from Peter B’s – some made with hops that Rancho students grew – is also available at retail (not restaurant) prices.
And now there’s only more to dig.
Adrienne Saldivar-Meier, an adjunct chef who helps teach there, debuted Lettuce Be the Change Cookbook ($19.99) last month after Drummonders helped her test its 67 recipes in their kitchen.
Each item – from noodle-less radicchio lasagna to cauliflower-Mexican sausage scrambler – is designed with clever health upgrades in place. Part of the type on the 160-page hardcover reads: “Answering the call for action from America’s First Lady, one chef and one special school come together to change the way the American family eats and cooks!”
The content compensates for the cheesy title – wait, lettuce be a more forgiving species in 2013 – with at least five recipes I want to cook tonight, from the pear-ricotta pancakes to the artichoke nachos to the albóndigas soup.
Rancho Cielo Executive Director Susie Brusa’s fave, inspired partly by her low-carb diet: The broccoli slaw, which she uses instead of pasta, and also comes into play with dishes like the broccoli coleslaw tuna salad. She also digs the cauliflower couscous, which supplants starches like rice. The other awesome debut element: A coach for Peninsula diners. Not the sort of life coaching the young chefs of Drummond drum up when the best cooks among them work key local events like the Lincoln-Jefferson Awards – but the sort of vehicle that most tend to call a shuttle.
The 24-seat bus leaves from the Peninsula once a month starting 5:30pm Friday, Jan. 11, from the Safeway parking lot at the Crossroads in Carmel ($10). CCM&E Destination Services has agreed to help underwrite the expenses; make a reservation at 444-3521.
Also this month: One of the granddaddy benefits of 2013, when the student chefs star alongside 18 chefs like Cal Stamenov, Ted Walter, Bert Cutino, Tony Baker, James Waller and Dory Ford for the fourth annual Culinary Round-Up ($150) at Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa 5-8pm Jan. 20. Seven wineries like Talbott, Gallante and Bernardus pour and the theme – from the attire to the music (The Hay Boys) – gallops Western, with the mood casual and the grazing of the gourmet grub strolling.
The benefits flow in from this one like few others, as everything – including the space, chef time and foodstuffs – are donated. 444-3501 for more.
All told it’s an ongoing story of renewal, creativity and community in the face of daunting challenges – and just the sort of story that’s good to keep close to heart heading into 2013.
• Bummer: Salinas Valley Fish House shuttered earlier this week. More on the blog.
• In 2012, this column took you into the region’s most anticipated openings (Schooners, Lokal, Ike’s) and most dangerous discoveries (just try the sushi challenge at Harumi) – and to Puerto Rico, Los Angeles Food & Wine, Denver’s Great American Beer Festival and Brazil to boot. Visit the blog for a look back at the 10 best columns of the year, and a bonus peek at Joel Ede’s favorite 10 blog posts of 2012.
• Like a spore from the forest floor, The Foragers Festival has mushroomed up to replace the Chanterelle Festival. Jan. 11-12 with mushroom hunts ($35), a “Fungus Face-Off” ($45) and a culminating dinner at Restaurant at Ventana ($175) with Truman Jones and Americano Restaurant’s Kory Stewart. Big Sur Taphouse, Big Sur Bakery, River Inn, A Big Sur Affair, Carmel Valley Ranch, Coast Gallery, Fernwood, Ripplewood, Treebones and Ventana all send chefs; www.bigsurforagersfestival.org.
• One of the best bike-to-brunch spots, Trailside Cafe (649-8600), just added winter-friendly foods like vegetarian lasagna ($9.95), mac ‘n’ cheese six different ways including spinach-bacon ($4.95-$6.95) and the grilled three-cheese with tomato basil soup ($7.95). More seasonal sensory stuff: When it rains, and you mention this, 20 percent drops off the bill. Owner Sean Allen, meanwhile, maintains three great taps, with North Coast Scrimshaw, Green Flash and a rotating handle that flows Anderson Valley Winter Solstice at the moment ($5.50 each).
• Three words: National Spaghetti Day. Friday, Jan. 4, the warm people and welcoming setting you want is at Fandango (372-3456), where pasta St. Bayon with soup or salad and dessert is $14.95++. Or you can grab a pesto pasta recipe on the blog and celebrate at home. More Fandango fun: commemorate its 26th year 5-7pm each Monday this month with a three-course $25 meal for two with a glass of house wine for $2.
• “What is the good of experience,” Frederick II said, “if you do not reflect?”