Edible Monterey Bay

A Taste of Paradise

A Taste of Paradise

A local caterer takes cooking from scratch to an inspired level

By Ray Patterson 

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 3.16.23 PMWhen Jon Kasky and Nancy Rohan travel abroad, they always make it a point to seek out exotic heirlooms, smuggling the goods home in their luggage.

But this is no clandestine tale about illegal contraband. The couple could care less about expensive antiquities. Instead, the owners of Paradise Catering in Carmel Valley focus their attention on rare seeds forgotten by a homogeneous world with a commercial appetite.

For example, during a trip to Umbria, Italy, in 2009, they uncovered seeds for Cicoria (orchidea), an orchid-colored radicchio that dates back generations in that region. The seeds have since sprouted, and share ground on the couple’s 1-acre farm in the hills above the village with heirloom lettuces, tomatoes, squash, beans and the infamous pink apples recovered from nearby Earthbound Farm.

For 26 years, this husband-and-wife team has grown its own or- ganic fruits and vegetables for use on the job. It’s part of a business philosophy that sets a high standard in the local catering world.

“We aren’t organic because of a trend. It really is our nature,” Rohan says. “When we can’t use our own produce, we support local farmers in the Carmel area, always selecting based on season and using vegetables when they are at their best, most tasty selves.”

Conventional farming “creates maximum volume and poundage because it’s heavily sprayed,” Kasky adds. It’s less expensive than organic, and every tomato (or every apple) looks the same.

“The look of organic produce isn’t always as pretty,” he says. “So a bug nibbled on something. The new thinking is, ‘Wow, look at that—it must not have been sprayed with poison.’”

The majority of Paradise Catering’s business comes from weddings—an expensive day by anyone’s measure—so adding the cost of pricier organic and sustainable produce and meats can be difficult.

“Many of our brides want to do the right thing, but it can be a tough call,” Rohan says. “They often want fish that is line-caught and beef that is grassfed. They are already spending a ton of money on the wedding, but it’s becoming more and more important to them, and we see it changing slowly.”

Paradise can help with the decision by showing off its garden, stocked with seasonal produce (the summer showstopper is an heirloom tomato display of 600 vines), edible flowers and greenery for garnish— all of it organic. The menus are always in line with the seasons, and those unconvinced by local and seasonal can take a stroll through to taste for themselves. (The company motto is “From Farm to Flavor”).

Some couples don’t need to be led by the hand. Some even dig in and help produce the meal themselves.

Recently, a Paradise bride and groom raised their own lamb and pig during their engagement. They cleaned and dressed the meat, and Chef Kasky cooked the whole animals on a spit in front of their guests as a showpiece. Around the table were framed photos, chronicling the entire yearlong process.

“They chose us because of our farm orientation, and we clicked on that level,” Kasky says. “A few of the guests were horrified, and that goes along with some Americans’ tidy, perfectionist, consumer attitude. But this is the original way of providing food for our tables in a loving, respectful manner. It was beautiful on so many levels.”

And what happens after the cooking is done? Paradise uses the copious amounts of vegetable and fruit peels and scraps it generates to make compost that will enhance the farm’s soil, making it ready to grow the next season’s crop, which in turn feeds the next season’s wedding guests. Such systems reduce a kitchen’s waste and a farm’s need to ship in soil amendments. And by diverting the scraps from the airless, methane-producing environment of a typical landfill, this also helps combat global warming.

“We believe this says a lot about our focus on serving fresh, unprocessed foods as well as our commitment to minimizing our footprint,” Kasky says.

Paradise Catering will prepare the meal at a Pop-up Supper Club that Edible Monterey Bay will host together with Holman Ranch on July 28. To purchase tickets, go to www.ediblemontereybay.com, and click on “Edible Events.” For more information about Paradise, go to www.paradisecater.com