GARDENER RANCH AND BASIL
A sneak peak at a historic ranch and a release party
By Elaine Hesser
Photography by Topher Mueller and Patrice Ward
The excitement ran high at Gardener Ranch on a sunny Sunday evening when the new event space and its culinary collaborator, AQUA TERRA Culinary, opened its doors to Edible Monterey Bay for Gardener’s very first quasi-public event.
Long-time Carmel Valley residents remember the old John Gar- diner’s Tennis Ranch, founded in 1957 by its tennis pro namesake. During the latter half of the 20th century, the resort had accommodated a remarkable number of political and entertainment world celebrities, including household names like Judy Garland, John Wayne, Ethel Kennedy, Lucille Ball, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Congressman Sam Farr worked as a lifeguard there in 1959. People flocked to the place for tennis lessons, great food, and the ra- diant surroundings.
The tennis courts are now gone, but since purchasing the prop- erty in 2011, owner Scot McKay, also the proprietor of the Carmel Valley Athletic Club and Refuge, has done a gentle renovation that preserves the natural beauty of the Carmel River-side property and allows it to accommodate up to 52 overnight guests in its elegant-rustic guest cottages. The change in spelling of the ranch’s name from Gardiner to Gardener is a subtle effort at rebranding; the goal now is to become known as venue for weddings and other special events and retreats, much as nearby Holman Ranch, Holly Farm and Stone Pine are.
Most exciting of all from our perspective is the food by loca- vore chef Dory Ford of AQUA TERRA, the new resort’s preferred caterer. Ford is a community-oriented personality whose food can be found at Point Pinos Grill in Pacific Grove, CVAC, a few lucky schools in the area and, most recently, A Taste of Monterey on Cannery Row. Ford also served as executive chef at The Restaurant at Ventana, and his new partnership with Gardener Ranch will add that kind of fine-dining farm-to-table option to AQUA TERRA’s roster of regular venues.
Ford grew up on Vancouver Island, picking and canning fresh vegetables long before it was hip. At Gardener he will get to grow his ingredients in an on-site organic garden designed by Carmel Valley organic gardening and farming guru Mark Marino. Aside from providing just-picked freshness, the gardens will be a place where Ford wants to send his cooks on rotations over the summer. The idea is a kind of sabbatical for the cooks to connect with the garden and the growing season, preparing them to become the kind of chef specializing in healthful, fresh seasonal food that Ford is. He’d also love to see chickens, goat and pigs raised on the property.
“The vision is a closed circle,” he says, referring to the sustainable food model wherein the garden and animals could produce food for guests, while the food scraps generated in the process would go back to feeding the animals and producing compost for the gardens.
At the dinner, guests were greeted for a glamorous poolside re- ception with sparkling wines, rich bites of duck confit-stuffed fingerling potatoes, buttery mushroom tartlets and a Technicolor combination of bright, house-cured salmon on tender avocado blinis.
The 30 guests were seated at an elegant communal table, also poolside, and the meal began with house-made stracciatella cheese served with sweet Swank Farms spring peas, morels, a truffle vinaigrette and warm crostini. The plate was like the distillation of a spring meadow with its playful textures and aromas and thought- fully paired with Bernardus’ crisp Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc and fruity-yet-restrained Monterey County Pinot Noir.
The main event—served family style—was Berkshire porchetta accompanied by grilled asparagus and a savory dish of favas, tiny beluga lentils and arugula. The moist, pork belly-wrapped loin was ac- cented by an herb rub with the slightest bit of spicy kick, rendering the pork flavor the star. Although most of the dinner guests could easily have joined the “clean plate club” at that point, no one could resist Ford’s strawberry rhubarb cobbler with Meyer lemon crème fraîche—like the rest of the dinner, it was simply spring on a plate.
(Six happy guests were notified by EMB on the prior Friday that they’d won the drawings for the seats from among the magazine’s e- newsletter subscribers. To subscribe, write an email to email@example.com.)
Spring Issue Release Party, Feb. 28 What better place for an Edible release party than a pretty cobble- stone courtyard flanked by one of the region’s most delicious restaurants committed to local, sustainable food and a pair of tasting rooms dispensing luscious local wines? It was no wonder that on less than a week’s notice, guests from all around the Monterey Bay region filled the courtyard in front of Basil Carmel on an early Spring Thursday evening to pick up the just-released spring edition of Edible Monterey Bay.
As Walle the goat (the cover model for the spring issue) peered brightly from the magazines spread out on café tables, guests congregated under the late afternoon sun to sample passed hors d’oeu- vres by Chef Soerke Peters of Basil and the wines of Manzoni Cellars and Shale Canyon Wines. Proprietor Mark Manzoni himself poured his 2011 cherry bomb of a pinot noir and a 2011 chardonnay full of caramel with hints of tropical fruit in the finish. Shale Canyon offered a lightly oaked chardonnay and a beautifully structured cabernet franc, both of which paired well with Peters’ flavor- ful bites of duck confit, Dungeness crab and wild mushrooms.
Just as this issue of EMB went to press, Basil became the first restaurant in our region to receive national sustainability certifica- tion from the Green Restaurant Association. Peters purchases local produce and seafood and sources grassfed beef from Paso Prime (where he is chef consultant). He’s also curing his own meats in- house, using Niman Ranch pork to make bacon and creating his own wild boar sausage from scratch.
Monterey-farmed abalone is on the menu, as is toothsome squid ink linguine and perfectly tender Monterey squid (an uber-sustainable fish) finished with a slightly briny and full-bodied sea urchin sauce. A vegan roasted vegetable plate has been met with rave reviews and high demand from diners.
But Peters’ efforts to shrink the restaurant’s carbon footprint don’t stop with the ingredients on the plate. He participates in Mon- terey County’s global warming-abating food scrap composting program. All of his beer and wine choices are domestic and many are organic—as are all the rest of the potent potables on the bar. There’s no Grey Goose, but you can check out Tito’s Handmade Vodka from Texas, have a shot of Hangar One or Napa Vodka from here in California or try Boyd & Blair from Pennsylvania. And if you’re going to have whiskey, why not have some of Kentucky’s own Angel’s Envy, aged up to six years in charred oak barrels and finished in port wine casks?
Peters is rightfully proud of the restaurant and he’s not about to rest on his laurels. After his debut at this year’s Cooking for Solutions in May, projects on his horizon include setting up beehives in Manzoni’s vineyards and raising his own Mangalitsa pigs. (“I need a hobby,” he jokes.) The woolly porkers hail from Hungary and produce pork that is rich, fatty and reportedly like beef in flavor. They are also cute as all get-out; perhaps a Cover Pig will find its way into Edible Monterey Bay’s future.