Edible Monterey Bay

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Happy Girl Kitchen Launching Pop-up Dinner Series

Happy Girl
Happy Girl co-founder Jordan Champagne with
Post Ranch Inn’s Matt Millea, aka
Happy Girl’s Pop-up Dinner Sous Chef Emeritus.

Hot on the heels of the lively and delicious pop-up dinners it held during last week’s EcoFarm Conference, Happy Girl Kitchen Co. plans to start hosting a regular series of monthly pop-ups at its Pacific Grove Café beginning in March.

“We’re looking forward to the next evening affair as much as anyone!” writes Todd Champagne, co-founder and owner with his wife, Jordan, of the eco-minded artisan preserves outfit, in an e-mail message after the event. “Matt Millea of Post Ranch has requested to be our sous chef emeritus . . . and we do so wish he can continue here, owing to his skills and gentle manners.”

If the experience the Champagnes staged on Friday, Feb. 3 is a sign of things to come, tickets for future dinners should be snapped up a soon as they’re available.

Friday’s event began with cocktails, Happy Girl style—a beer tasting put on by Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery and a technicolor crudo bar featuring Happy Girl’s own vibrant, organic, pickled produce. Musicians played live bluegrass in the background.

When it came time to sit down with the 40 assembled foodies and farmers (many were one and the same), Millea and Jacob Pilarski—whose day job is sous chef at Manresa, the Michelin two-starred restaurant run by David Kinch—provided a whole new take on vegetarian cuisine. Heller Estate Organic Vineyards provided the wine.

The highlight of the meal was a tangy-sweet braise of chanterelles with apples, leeks, greens and walnuts. But even after seven courses had all been served, the pleasant memory of a succulent and surprising salad of beets, celeriac, runny chevre and local seaweed that began the meal was just as sharp as when my empty plate was taken away.

dish of pickles

Goat’s eye beans with Happy Girl preserved dry-farmed tomatoes also have refused to be forgotten, as has Sweetwater Farm’s reinvention of a Spanish manchego: honey-rubbed and lavender-wrapped by proprietor/chef Charlie Cascio. And who but Happy Girl would dream up a not-too-sweet-but-impossible-not-to-finish Jamalade Tarte? Another dish that left a lasting imprint.

All of the deeply flavorful, fresh, organic produce—foraged or farmed—was provided by Jamie Collins’ Serendipity Farms. (The ingredients for another pop-up at Happy Girl, held the night before, were provided by Live Earth Farm.)

Still, even for an inveterate food lover, the best part of the evening was the blissful energy that comes from making new, wonderful friends that pop-ups tend to generate—and the warmth and joy of Todd and Jordan Champagne.

The Champagnes clearly could not be happier than to have an excuse to fill their café—which is normally closed at night—with people and food they love, as well as their infectious desire to nurture their local food community and create, as Todd put it that night, a “food sanctuary” in Pacific Grove.

Feeling contented and inspired, we new friends dispersed into the night.

Happy Girl Kitchen Co.
173 Central Ave., Pacific Grove

About the author

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SARAH WOOD—founding editor and publisher of Edible Monterey Bay—has had a life-long passion for food, cooking, people and our planet.

She planted her first organic garden and cared for her first chicken when she was in elementary school in a farming region of Upstate New York.

Wood spent the early part of her career based in Ottawa, Canada, working in international development and international education. After considering culinary school, she opted to pursue her loves for writing, learning about the world and helping make it a better place by obtaining a fellowship and an MA in Journalism from New York University.

While working for a daily newspaper in New Jersey, she wrote stories that helped farmers fend off development and won a state-wide public service award from the New Jersey Press Association for an investigative series of articles about a slumlord who had hoodwinked ratings agencies and investment banks into propping him up with some early commercial mortgage securitizations. The series led Wood to spend several years in financial journalism, most recently, as editor-in-chief of the leading magazine covering the U.S. hedge-fund industry.

Wood could not be happier to now be writing and editing articles about the Monterey Bay foodshed and the amazing people who help make it so vibrant and diverse. And, after spending much of her adult life gardening on fire escapes, she’s very glad to be planting in the ground again.

Wood lives with her husband, Rob Fisher, a fourth-generation Californian, and young daughter in Carmel Valley. Their favorite meal is a picnic dinner at Pt. Lobos State Reserve.

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