Edible Monterey Bay


Monterey Meringues plans sweet music
with youth violence-prevention group

Playing in the kitchen:
from left, Domenick Allen, Leigh Zimmerman and Stephen Vagnini.

By Lisa Crawford Watson
Photo by Margaux Gibbons

If award-winning actress Leigh Zimmerman and her husband, musician Domenick Allen, were going to take on a new project, it had to mean something. It had to be fun, and it had to allow them to engage in their community and fund their mission to make a difference through music education.

So after careers that took them across Europe and the U.S., they studied at Waitrose Cookery School in London and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Their daughter, Cayleigh, studied culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway College. Finally, in private master classes with renowned French chef Nicolas Houchet, they learned to make meringues—light, fluffy, crunchy-on-the-outside, marshmallowy-onthe- inside confections that would have their new hometown eating out of their hands.

They call the company “Monterey Meringues,” a nod to the region they made home last year and to the legendary pop festival for which it is known.

They give their bite-size pastries names like Monterey Pop-Corn, Purple Haze-lnut, Oreo Speedwagon, Razz-berry Beret, Beach Boys-enberry and The Almond Brothers.

That they’re made from fruit and vegetables, with sugar and eggs but no gluten, no dairy and no additives, makes them delicious and appealing. That they come with a rock ’n’ roll concept makes them fun and playful.

Less than a year after Monterey Meringues premiered at the Carmel International Film Festival, the company is still baking in an incubator for fledgling food businesses in Watsonville, yet has formed partnerships with the Sunset Center, Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey County Food Bank, Jacob’s Heart, the Hyatt Regency Monterey and various other hotels. Allen and Zimmerman are also distributing their meringues locally through farmers’ markets and nationally by mail order.

“Music is the mission; meringues are the passion; and peace and love is the message,” says Allen.

But the two were still looking for that perfect partnership when they attended a fundraiser in February for “Guitars Not Guns” at the Golden State Theatre in Monterey that featured “White Album Ensemble,” a corps of local musicians and friends that performs The Beatles’ “White Album.” In the audience they met Monterey County assessor Stephen Vagnini, who, in addition to his day job, manages local bands, promotes Sand City’s West End Celebration and launched the local chapter of Guitars Not Guns.

“Guitars Not Guns Music Program,” says Vagnini, “was founded to help prevent violence in schools and on the streets by providing foster kids, at-risk youth and other deserving children with guitars and lessons in a classroom setting with qualified teachers.” So far, the 4-year-old Monterey chapter’s biggest challenge has been finding volunteer guitar teachers, Vagnini says, but it has lined up enough of them to offer lessons through public schools in Castroville, King City, Gonzales and Salinas as well as numerous nonprofit organizations, including Rancho Cielo, the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts and Seaside’s Community Partnership for Youth.

“Our goal is to have programs in every city and town in Monterey County,” Vagnini says. “These days, all kids are at risk.” For Zimmerman and Allen, the organization was an ideal match, so they signed on in April to use their meringues and their talent to help fund and raise the profile of the group’s Monterey programs.

“Our theme is the universal language of music. We, as people from show business, are so passionate about continuing to share this art form with kids,” Zimmerman says, noting that mastering music boosts kids’ selfconfidence and self-esteem and “gives them a discipline, a passion and a purpose they can translate to anything.”

Zimmerman and Allen’s first big local event with Guitars Not Guns will be the West End Celebration this Aug. 21–23. They’ll of course have their meringues on hand, and Allen intends to perform.

“We’re talking about love,” says Allen, who has already donated a signed guitar. “John Lennon said, ‘All you need is love.’ And Shakespeare said, ‘If music be the food of love, rock on,’ or something like that. Music and meringues—that is our food.”