When Edible Monterey Bay approached Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market director Nesh Dhillon with the idea of collaborating on a pop-up meal, he picked breakfast. “Everyone does dinner,” he reasoned, “but no one does breakfast.”
On Saturday August 25th, Dhillon teamed up with Chef Kevin Koebel, and his organization Local FATT (Food Awareness Through Teaching), to present a menu that showcased regionally significant food at this farm-to-breakfast table pop-up event. Local FATT urges consumers and farmers to build full-circle food systems that blend knowledge, passion, intelligence, and integrity.
Imagine the jovial scene. Tubs of luscious berries crowd market tables. A string quartet roams the market, serenading the crowd with folk music and bluegrass tunes. Wrinkled padrón and shishito peppers are piled precariously into baskets. Bins of Red Kuri pumpkins signal that fall may be just around the bend. Market goers, hands curled around basket handles, stroll from one stand to the next and peruse the offerings while giggling among themselves and chatting with the vendors. And, tucked into a corner of the market, long tables and chairs are set-up with menus printed on heavy craft paper. Jam jars, mismatched coffee mugs, jugs of water, and wildflowers in mason jars line the tables. And in the interest of ecology—and a more festive, colorful table—event planners asked diners bring their own plates and flatware.
Along with Dhillon and Koebel, this collaborative feast relied on the Westside Market producers themselves and other unique local purveyors. Barry Jackson, the owner and winemaker of Equinox Champenoise, kicked off the celebration by mixing mimosas for the guests who numbered just over fifty. Made just blocks from where we sat, Jackson employs the traditional French méthode champenoise to give his sparkling libation a toasty, aromatic quality. “More flavor results from the contact with the yeast,” Jackson explains.
Roland Konicke, of Uncie Ro’s Pizza, manned his wood-fired oven which was used to cook most of the meal. Konicke stuffed high-protein dough with scrambled eggs, Harley Farms chevre, wilted greens, and house-ground fennel-molasses sausage with a touch of El Salchichero’s magic in it, and baked it at a high temperature until it bore his signature charred crust to make the hearty roulades that were served about mid-way through the meal.
Fiesta Farms delivered fresh eggs; Condor’s Hope Winery poured their rosé; Lulu Carpenter’s Coffee lined the tables with carafes of steaming artisan-roasted coffee; H&H Fresh Fish provided local king salmon; and Happy Boy, Route 1, Live Earth, Everett, New Natives, Twin Girl, Rainbow Orchard, and Companion Bakeshop all came together to make this meal incredibly seasonal, fresh, and unique.
Along with the Equinox mimosas, breakfast began with heaping bowls of fresh fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe cubes, and raspberries were macerated in a splash of sparkling wine with whole vanilla beans and magnificently garnished with fresh lavender sprigs and bachelor button florets.
The feast continued as Nicki Zahm, Director of the Foodshed Project, made her way around the tables with a heavy wooden board piled high with salty-caramel sticky buns that were slathered with house-made raw honey butter.
Wood-fire roasted salmon filets were served with a pool of persillade—think pesto but with parsley instead of basil—on one side and a wild mushroom-tarragon reduction on the other. Perfectly poached eggs sat astride wilted collard greens, topped with a vibrant nasturtium and drizzled with Meyer lemon juice and flaxseed oil. And Koebel cut his house-cured bacon by hand so that no two pieces were alike.
From start to finish the breakfast was a parade of delectable dishes that looked as exquisite as they tasted. Some people might eat at box-restaurants because they know what to expect. It’s predictable and it’s uniform. A dish at a chain restaurant in one city should look exactly the same as the same dish at the same restaurant in another city. That’s the point, right? But people who eat food that is hand-cut, hand-rolled, and handmade expect and really relish variations. Food made by hand is strikingly irregular. Gorgeously asymmetrical.
Because the goal of the pop-up was not just to wine and dine guests with seasonal goods, towards the end of the breakfast Dhillon and Koebel spoke to the group about the benefits of local, fresh foods and urged people to make informed food choices. Then they opened up the floor for comments and moderated a round-table discussion about the event. Some people had never attended a pop-up event before, others were veterans. Some people frequented farmers’ markets weekly for their fruits and vegetables, many didn’t. I was surprised by the show of hands when that question was posed. Koebel wasn’t. He said that that was about par: only about a third of the group regularly shopped at their farmers’ market. But, he said, it begins with awareness and education.
In that vein, Local FATT gave t-shirts to the kids that attended. My boys were thrilled and immediately pulled the wheat grass-colored shirts over the ones they were already wearing. When we left the breakfast and headed to a school pool party, they continued to sport the shirts. I overheard them telling their classmates about their morning culinary adventure.
I know that my kids aren’t completely typical. We tour our CSA farm annually; we visit organic dairies; we procure meat from our friends who hunt; we shop at farmers’ markets regularly. But I was so proud when I asked my 10-year-old what the term ‘local food system’ meant to him and he answered with knowledge, passion, and intelligence. “Supporting local food systems means that we eat food that grows here…you know, in our own community. When you cook with local food—and other people like it—they’ll be more likely to buy it.” Well said. I think Dhillon and Koebel would be proud, too.
Camilla M. Mann has crammed a lot of different jobs into four decades: florist, waitress, SCUBA divemaster, stock photo agency manager, stroller fitness teacher, writer, editor, and au pair. But, if she had to distill who she is today – tree-hugging, veggie-crunching, jewelry-designing mean mommy who loves to cook but hates to clean. Thankfully her husband and their boys clean like champs. Her current culinary goal: grow conscientious, creative kids with fearless palates! She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com