June 6, 2017 – Monterey Bay Aquarium executive chef Matt Beaudin is always looking for new projects that make a difference in the world—and planting his own organic vegetables is his latest effort.
As you might recall, Beaudin was the guy who (literally) went the extra mile to discover Evergreen Acres Dairy in Tres Pinos, featured on the cover of EMB’s spring issue. He began buying goat feta cheese and duck eggs from the dairy, and then was inspired to buy rare breed sheep and care for them on the ranch belonging to Mike and Jane Hulme.
Now, he’s journeying into produce, helping out at an organic farm in San Benito County that has signed on to be the main supplier of vegetables for the aquarium. As with his other projects, Beaudin likes to be hands-on.
The aquarium is partnering with España Farms just outside Hollister in a big way. In fact, Beaudin’s plan is for the 34-acre farm on San Felipe Road to provide heirloom tomatoes, onions, fava beans, basil and more, probably “everything but lettuce” for the aquarium kitchen, says Beaudin. Lettuce grows best in cooler areas closer to the coast.
Beaudin and aquarium sous chef Adam Young went out and planted vegetable starts with farmers Rebecca España and Francisco Gildardo last week, something that he says is more difficult work than he thought it would be. “I was out there sweating my ass off,” he says.
“These guys, they’re the real story,” he says not just of España and Gildardo, but of farmworkers in general. “They know so much and they work so hard.” It’s his hope that more local chefs will work directly with the area’s organic farmers, which is a win-win for both—better food for the restaurants that is sustainably supplied, and a better living for the farmers.
The veggie venture began when Beaudin was looking for a supplier of heirloom tomatoes for the aquarium and began chatting with Richard Supat of Russo’s Produce. Supat referred him to España, saying, “They’ll plant whatever you want.” Sure enough, España and Gildardo agreed to grow veggies for the aquarium year-round, which will include cucumbers, radishes, and different types of squash as the year goes on.
“In three weeks, the basil and tomatoes will start to hit, and then the onions,” says Beaudin, who’s looking forward to making a tart featuring onions from the farm and Evergreen Acres’ feta and duck eggs: “I’m a huge onion fan.”
But the real intent of all this is not just to enhance his own image, Beaudin says, but to get other chefs to consider more sustainable ways of running their restaurants. He’s asked España and Gildardo to pack their produce in reusable plastic containers rather than cardboard boxes, which are used once and then thrown away.
And he notes that working with one farm not only cuts out the middleman and saves money, but also greatly reduces the carbon footprint that’s created by traditional packing and shipping.
Ordinarily, produce is packed at a farm, trucked to a shipper and refrigerated in a warehouse, and then shipped out somewhere else. Contrast this with the aquarium’s new produce partnership: “It’s packed and it comes right here,” says Beaudin. “It’s incredibly cost-effective, and it’s fresher, greener, brighter, and full of nutrition.”
The next innovation he plans for the aquarium is piping filtered seawater directly into his kitchen. “Seawater has 5.6 percent salinity,” he says, perfect for cooking pasta and other dishes. “It’s natural and it’s much better for you than adding salt. And it gives a kind of umami flavor, and with so many other benefits.” (See EMB summer issue for more on Cooking with Ocean Water)
Beaudin continues to push the sustainability envelope and says he thinks other local chefs are taking notice: “If you look at Folktale, that’s all that (chef Todd Fisher) is talking about now,” he says, referring to organic and sustainably-grown ingredients that Fisher is using to craft signature dishes for the Carmel Valley winery.
Beaudin’s intent? “To make the Monterey Bay in to the biggest sustainable food place in the world,” he says. “We have it all right here.”