By Amber Turpin
It would have been hard to predict that a Davenport couple’s spontaneous decision to walk instead of drive one summer day would turn into their current life’s work. But that walk, significantly longer than a neighborhood stroll, was from Davenport all the way to the seminal 2008 Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco, which would draw 80,000 people inspired to help change the way we think about food.
The three-day trek up the coast ended in the wine section of the Taste Pavilion, where Dana and Wallace J. Nichols rested their tired feet with a glass of something nice. They began chatting with fellow imbibers at the bar and one nice lady, after hearing about their journey, aptly declared, “You took a slow walk to Slow Food Nation up the slow coast.” That woman happened to be Alice Waters, and from that moment, SLOWCOAST was born.
Wallace, who simply goes by “J,” is a marine biologist and conservationist who initially made his mark in the 1990s by tracking a sea turtle from Mexico to Japan—the first such journey on record. Since then, he has dedicated his life to a multitude of projects, the biggest revolving around the theory that being near the ocean has a strong influence on our brains. He believes that if we can study those effects, we can gain tools for protecting the sea for future generations. He has enlisted a vast network of friends, from environmental activists to surfers to neuroscientists, to help with the cause.
Not unexpectedly, with such grand goals, Nichols is a busy guy. Over the years, his time has been consumed with TEDx talks, conferences, promoting conservation travel and research at the California Academy of Sciences—most of it taking him far from his home and family here on the Central Coast. Eventually, putting his efforts into “everywhere but here” made him finally ask, “How can we do more here to support this community?”
That question was in the back of the Nichols’ minds on their walk
A Food Truck Worth Chasing
Kuki’s brings Japanese-inspired flavors to the people
Story and photos by Rob Fisher
Teri Takikawa stood next to his mother Fukuko—known as “Kuki”—as they worked side-by-side in his mobile kitchen, filling orders for eager customers swarming outside. The shiny black Ford had a former life as a shuttle van in Portland, Ore., but Teri and his wife, Kelli, have put in a kitchen where the seats used to be, transforming it into Monterey’s latest and—at present—only gourmet food truck.
When Teri was growing up in Pacific Grove, Kuki (pronounced like “cookie”) Americanized the Japanese dishes of her own childhood just enough to make her boys eat them up—and make the neighborhood kids love them, too.
Recently, Teri and Kelli became inspired to create a food truck to share these family recipes with others, and to Kuki’s surprise, they named it after her.
The Takikawas are both food-oriented people, but they aren’t professional chefs, so they partnered with Mark Doton, who had served as executive chef and culinary educator at Whole Foods in Monterey, where Kelli is the store’s team leader.
Doton grew up on a small farm in Vermont, and only became a chef after an earlier career. He’s worked in the kitchens of Bernardus, Sierra Mar and with Sarah LaCasse in her certified organic kitchen at Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand. He shared the Takikawas’ sense of purpose right from the start, spending time with Kuki to develop a menu based on her original sauces.
In keeping with the ethics and quality-minded sourcing ethos of the places where both Doton and Kelli have worked, Doton buys vegetables as much as possible from local farms, natural meats from Niman Ranch, and organic, air-chilled birds from Mary’s Chicken. “I just love the way it cooks up,” he says.
“Everybody thinks that it’s fried, but it’s baked,” explains Kelli of Kuki’s Bonsai Chicken, one of the truck’s signature dishes. “It’s crispy, and it fills your mouth with all the flavors of the teriyaki and the chicken.”
On the day I visited, I got to sample the popular chicken, which was saturated in light, sweet teriyaki flavor and so tender that it fell off the bone.
I also got to try another popular dish, a rice bowl topped with succulent shredded beef and spicy coconut milk curry. It was loaded with fresh vegetables, all of it infused with lively coconut-and-chili goodness. I topped off my meal with a spicy peanut Sambal brownie, and it was easy to see why some devotees are telling Teri and Kelli that they are addicted!
“We wanted to be able to go to customers,” explains Kelli of their motivation to launch a food truck rather than a restaurant. “We wanted to be able to introduce people to food directly, and we like that excitement that it generates.”
Kuki no longer lives locally, and on the day I visited, she was just filling in for Chef Doton, who was away at a wedding. She looked right at home in her namesake truck and is flattered by all of the attention, but it didn’t start out that way.
Unbeknownst to her, Teri and Kelli announced the new business to their friends by sending out a photo of a stylish young Kuki in sunglasses, standing beside a tiny convertible in 1950s San Francisco. At first, Kuki was deeply embarrassed. But she says now that what her son and daughter-in-law are doing has given her life a lot of meaning and filled her with gratitude.
Rob Fisher is rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Carmel Valley and co-publisher and associate editor of this magazine.
Kuki’s • www.kukisbowl.com • 831.521.0744
Artists Jerry and Pamela Takigawa make art with a cause out of deadly, beautiful trash
By Lisa Crawford Watson
Soaring above the Pacific Ocean, the albatross is scanning below for her next opportunity to feed. She looks for squid, fish or krill. When she sees something alluring, she dives and breaks the ocean’s surface, only to ingest a meal of discarded plastic. These bits of waste that collect in the Pacific become “false food” to birds and other creatures of the sea. And like junk food that leaves little room in people’s stomachs for more nutritious food, ultimately causing life-threatening diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes, the plastic can have deadly consequences for the animals, leaving no space in their stomachs for food of any kind.
In a stunning and gently provocative show that will run at the Chesebro Tasting Room in Carmel from Sept. 28 through Nov. 3, Jerry and Pamela Takigawa invite the viewer to reflect on the tragic impact of our wasteful ways on the sea creatures with which we share our planet. The show, Expanding Horizons, will begin with an opening reception on Sept. 28.
Jerry Takigawa, a fine art photographer and designer whose firm Takigawa Design is located on Cannery Row, became inspired to make the series he’ll display when he saw an installation of colorful plastic trash gathered by the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. All of the refuse was collected from the bellies of dead albatrosses. Takigawa has photographed assemblages of this very same material, turning the killer garbage into beautiful, consciousness-raising art.
“Aesthetics keep the story alive. One can only look so long at documentary images of dead birds with plastic,” Jerry says. “There
is irony in creating art out of garbage, yet through its beauty or aesthetic we can at least stay with it long enough to get the story and appreciate the subtext. You have to find a way to inspire people in order to motivate them to do something. That’s where art comes in.”
Takigawa’s intent to promote action through beauty is complemented by the luminous representational oil-on-paper and acrylic-on-panel paintings of birds that Pamela will contribute to the show.
Ultimately, the Takigawas want us to appreciate the way in which all things in the environment are connected—that “what we do to the environment, we do to us,” Jerry writes in a program for an earlier show at the Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel.
Plastic degrades extremely slowing, gradually breaking down into a “soup of molecular plastic” in the sea, which is then ingested by the fish we eat ourselves.
“At this size,” Takigawa writes, “plastic enters the food chain and ‘we’ become the albatross.”
Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.
Chesebro Tasting Room • 19 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley • 831.659.5098 • www.chesebrowines.com
Watsonville’s new food enterprise incubator aims to spur local artisanal food ventures
By Elizabeth Limbach
Business plans, product development, permits, equipment, regulations, commercial kitchen rental, labeling—the road to starting a food business is difficult to navigate, to say the least.
But in a boon to would-be local food artisans without an MBA or much in the way of startup financing, a new culinary business incubator that opened in July in Watsonville is aiming to eliminate some of these obstacles and provide assistance with others.
“One of the things with food businesses is that oftentimes people think it’s much easier than it is,” says Carmen Herrera-Mansir, executive director for El Pajaro Community Development Corp., which operates the 8,000-square-foot kitchen in the former Alfaro’s Micro Bakery. “And then they also don’t realize the amount of in- vestment it requires, especially if you don’t have a kitchen. With a kitchen made available, you reduce the start-up investment.”
The program is a natural for the community. Watsonville’s unemployment rate has been hovering above 20%, and the EPCDC found that 40% of its clients wanted to start food businesses.
The nonprofit identified several possible factors at work in this ballooning interest. Some is residual—veterans of Watsonville’s now- defunct food processing industry looking to use skills they already have—and some is part of a surging desire among area farmers to diversify their businesses by making value-added, marketable products like jams and canned sauces that bring a higher price than their raw produce.
A blossoming food movement makes the project even more relevant. “There are a lot of things going on right now that promote people’s interest in food and food businesses,” says Herrera-Mansir.
Not surprisingly, the kitchen, which has just 15 workstations that rent for between $10 and $30 per hour, had attracted a waitlist of more than 60 clients even before it opened. The applicants ranged in age from people in their early 20s to those in their 80s, with their ambitions ranging from producing tortillas and tamales to soups, salads and salsas.
La Selva Beach resident Maggie Driscoll sees the incubator as her chance to transition from a hectic catering career to her dream job: producing her own delicious food line. If all goes well with her first item—a tasty take on basic granola—she hopes to land other products on market shelves, under the name “Maggie’s Farm.”
“[This kitchen] is a wonderful opportunity,” she says. “It could be a really successful venture for a lot of people, and for some, it could be a big business belly flop. Any time you go into business by yourself, it’s a risk.”
The difference between this incubator and many others cropping up around the nation is the bevy of educational and technical assistance services thrown in. Driscoll had her business plan and packaging already hammered out when the kitchen opened, but she said she did plan to apply for one of EPCDC’s micro-loans.
The agency’s ultimate goal in supporting these food start-ups is of course to empower the entrepreneurs who will go on to create jobs and spur economic improvement in the region, says Herrera-Mansir.
A similar vision is propelling clients like Maggie Driscoll forward with their own projects.
“If I could have a decent, steady income, hire some employees and have a nice little running business, that would be golden,” Driscoll says.
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist based in Santa Cruz.
Watsonville Commercial Kitchen Incubator • 412 Riverside Drive, Watsonville • 831.722.1224• www.elpajarocdc.org
The new Wharf Marketplace aims to shred the “lettuce curtain”
By Lisa Crawford Watson
It’s a windy morning at the height of the summer growing season, and Rick Antle, president and CEO of produce giant Tanimura & Antle, surely has many places to be in running his company’s production and distribution. Yet he is standing in an old train depot in Monterey, beaming as he explains the intricate details of kale sprouts (yes, really, a kale-Brussels sprouts hybrid.) to a group of reporters. The local food movement seems to be taking a new turn. One of Salinas’ mighty producers is getting back to the roots of its business by bringing great local produce to locals who care to seek it out. Instead of focusing on shipping lettuce (and kale) miles away from here (by train), T&A has spent $1 million renovating this historic train station between down- town Monterey and the working wharf.
The Wharf Marketplace had not yet opened as of press time, but Antle enthusiastically promised it would be the first “local food hall,” meaning something between a carefully curated specialty food market and a permanent farmers’ market like the Ferry Building in San Francisco or Pike Place in Seattle. As such, it will bear similarities to the 10,000-square-foot Independent Market- place in Sand City, a popular, once-monthly market that will open in permanent form in May. But unlike the Ferry Building or The Indy Market, The Wharf’s compact space (3,700 square feet) will mean that it can only host other purveyors’ own stalls at outdoor weekend pop-up markets, and otherwise, it will be purchasing the products it doesn’t produce itself from purveyors and reselling them, much like a specialty market.
It was controversial as to who would get the city’s blessing to have use of this sought- after space, and it very nearly became a restaurant or a fish market. But T&A got the nod, and now Antle is showing that the company is all in. He is genuinely thrilled about the project and is drawing together a diverse group of local farming operations and artisans who haven’t commonly rubbed elbows.
While T&A is one of the largest growers in our area, it aims to promote the great small- batch local food companies like Happy Girl Kitchen Co. (jams and preserves), Acme Coffee Roasting, Schoch Family Farmstead (cheese) and Baker’s Bacon. And for produce that it doesn’t grow itself, T&A is inviting onboard some of its big Salinas rivals, such as Natureripe, as well as small family farms from around the region that it considers to be “the best of the best” in their categories.
“My family has been in produce all our lives,” says Antle. “But it’s pretty much been about shipping produce out of the area. I’ve always been passionate about bringing just- picked, fresh produce to the Monterey peninsula as a way to foster healthy eating and bring the neighboring communities together.”
This aim to “shred the lettuce curtain,” by getting its produce from field to market and into the hands of local consumers within hours of harvest—something small family farms have been more known for than the big agricultural businesses—is also sure to raise the profile of T&A and its vendors among the many residents and visitors who pass by the former train station every day.
The Wharf faces the Monterey Sports Center, which serves 1,000 people daily during the week and 1,500 a day on the weekends. Plus, the market flanks the coastal recreation trail, whose steady traffic of outdoor enthusiasts likely will be looking to refuel.
“There’s a healthy lifestyle happening all around us,” says Antle, “and we want to take part in supporting that.”
Overseeing the market is General Manager Brant Good, who hails from a produce heritage and once harvested lettuce for T&A.
He has spent most of his adulthood working in kitchens, including as executive chef at the Sardine Factory, a Monterey icon.
“When Rick told me about this project,” says Good, “I thought, ‘the farmer and the chef!’—how perfect is this? I know produce, and I know food and what to do with it. I’ve had the same vision to bring in the best of our local produce—organic whenever possible— and partner with other local vendors to create a community hub for fresh produce and fresh- made food.”
One of the most striking differences be- tween the Wharf and a conventional market is the Marketplace’s commitment to stock virtually only local produce, and as a result, only produce that is in season.
“You won’t come here in December and find cantaloupes,” says Antle, “but you will find the best of what’s fresh at any given time of year.”
There won’t be room for a large choice within categories of products, but the operators plan to rotate local wines in and out and promise to endeavor to carry the finest of each product, which includes not just produce, but flowers, pantry items and fish.
All in all, it could become a highly convenient shopping experience for area locavores. “If you go to the grocery store,” says Antle, “you’re shopping for food. When you come to The Wharf Marketplace, you’re looking for a culinary experience.”
The Wharf Marketplace
290 Figueroa St., Monterey • 831.261.8807 www.thewharfmarketplace.com
Giving Hope and Going Green
Eco Home and Garden Expo and benefit farm dinner coming to Monterey in October
By Sarah Wood
“We wanted our kids to have a safe place to volunteer and to realize that they had a responsibility to help their community,” says Hope Center Executive Director Kim Lemaire, mother of two daughters. “I always say help locally and think globally—if everybody thought that way, there’d be no hunger.”
Over time, the entirely volunteer-staffed food pantry has grown to provide 300 Monterey Peninsula people and 150 pets with much-needed supplementary groceries each month—and a place where children and adults alike can contribute their time to helping others. But because the center operates independently of any church or other organization, it relies completely on donations to pay its rent and purchase the food it distributes. This time of year, the need for its services is greater than ever.
Edible Monterey Bay is extremely proud to be assisting the Hope Center by sponsoring the Monterey Eco Home and Garden Expo Farm-to-Table Dinner on Oct. 18—an event that will raise money for the Hope Center and kick off the Eco Home and Garden Expo (Oct. 19–20), which we are also sponsoring. Both will take place at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
The dinner will feature produce and meats raised on local organic farms and foraged from local forests. Heller Estate Organic Vineyards will pour its award-winning wines and the highly creative chef, Brandon Miller of Mundaka in Carmel, will cook the meal, which will be held al fresco, in an oak-studded area overlooking the adjacent golf course.
“It’s going to be the best time of the year for harvesting produce,” Miller says, noting that he also expects to incorporate wild chanterelles, housemade charcuterie and the Spanish flair that Mundaka is known for into the multi-course meal.
Heller Estate is a huge supporter of local community organizations, and Rich Tanguay, Heller’s winemaker, says the winery is especially pleased to be helping the Hope Center. So Heller will be taking the special step of pouring at the event its not-yet-released, first-vintage Petite Syrah, among other wines.
“It turns out that it’s going to be pretty awesome,” Tanguay says. “It’s very broad-shouldered, inky and juicy—it’s a really vibrant and explosive wine.”
Also exciting for all parties involved is the fact that the annual fall home and garden show is being refined this year to focus on green living.
“We’re excited to be re-launching this as an eco home and garden expo so that homeowners can become more educated and take away one piece of advice that makes their lives a little bit greener and helps the planet overall,” says Heather Osgood, co-founder of Simply Clear Marketing, which is staging the expo.
Osgood and her staff have planned a number of new features to help event-goers enhance their homes and gardens. There will be lifestyle seminars on topics such as green building (including one produced by Edible Monterey Bay), cooking demonstrations, wine and food tastings, and more than 100 home and garden experts available to answer questions.
The expo will also offer an array of items—many of them organic—for purchase from a “Grab and Go” home décor shop in the Expo’s Lifestyle Pavilion, and electric cars will be on sale as part of an electric car demo.
Tickets for the dinner are $75 and may be purchased at www.ediblemontereybay.com/edibleevents. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the Eco Home and Garden Expo, go to www.montereycounty homeshow.com/cm/Home.html.