For all the important and pioneering work chef Pamela Burns and her Wild Plum Café & Bakery have done in organic sourcing, vegetarian fare and sustainable practices, she knows it doesn’t count for much at all.
At least not if what’s on the plate doesn’t taste really good.
“The food has to be delicious,” Burns says. “Nothing matters if things aren’t super yummy.”
Fortunately for her loyal local following—and growing international audience—Wild Plum’s robust salads, rustic sandwiches and vegan chili are homespun and 10/10 tasty. A small sampling of best sellers include the Mediterranean tacos with eggplant, Greek salad and local feta; her Market Salad with seasonal veggies, roasted beets, smoked uncured bacon and local goat cheese (when available); and the mushroom chimichurri wrap.
“We could never take these off the menu,” Burns says. “People would riot.”
Burns introduced her latest seasonal menu this week. While it is leaner than ever as she focuses even more on exclusively seasonal offerings, it does feature a decision-making crisis of tempting choices like the new roasted cumin carrot salad with a coriander vinaigrette or the BLAT plate with two poached eggs.
It also continues to reflect the philosophy she founded Wild Plum with 20 years ago.
“We put the best ingredients we can put on a plate,” she says. “Everything is made in house with a continued dedication to farmers and ingredients.”
Pamela runs a true green business and her attention to detail shows in the final products—organic, locally sourced produce and meats ,organic grass-fed beef, chicken and pasture raised eggs. As well as our house-baked bread and pastries.
“As a local community we have to be more aware of what we eat and be more careful in choosing,” she says. “When we honor small farmers and nurture the environment, we embrace the bigger picture. It does make a difference.”
She cites family operations like Blue Heron Farms, Fogline Farms, Baker’s Bacon and Pinnacle Farms. She points to elements like Wild Plum’s winter jam, a savory root vegetable jam used on all kinds of things, including the noteworthy mac and cheese; three house vinegars including a citrus champagne, a red wine and an apple cider vinegar; and house made ketchup and a remarkable mustard by Dutch Girl Farms.
“It’s all in the details,” she says. “Every dish has this kind of detail behind it.”
Maintaining a dedication to organic can be a lot easier to say than do. That was especially true when Burns started Wild Plum in 2000. At that time organic was a fringe idea at best and the costs for what little options existed were often, in her words, “exorbitant.”
But Burns had a vision. “My founding food philosophy was to make accessible food that people wanted to eat: delicious comfort food,” she says. “It’s not easy to find everything, and I spend a little more because I believe it’s that important, but I feel grateful that I can choose to do this.”
While the fundamentals have remained in place since the beginning, Burns and her team push to build upon their progress year in and year out. “Every year I try to add something beneficial,” she says.
Her current priorities include evolving the zero-waste program (composting with the city and using every scrap of bread or beet), introducing more and more plant-based dishes (“Meat should be a condiment,” she says), and transitioning completely to pasture-raised meats.
In so doing she continues a never-ending education odyssey—perpetually illuminating herself, her staff and her clientele.
Local home, food and garden entrepreneur Helaine Tregenza has been tracking Burns since before the restaurant opened and eats there religiously, noting the turkey-pesto sandwich on house-baked focaccia and the scones “are to die for.”
“Pamela was the first to go organic, which is more meaningful than she gets credit for,” Tregenza says. “She’s a gifted individual, and she’s so sweet and caring about how people feel. It’s hard to achieve what she has achieved.”
Tregenza’s advice for those intimidated by the line out the door for breakfasts and brunches: Fear not.
“If you wait, it’s worth it,” she says. “I don’t know how she does it.”
For Burns, the 4am mornings are worth it for reactions she treasures, including This is the best breakfast/best sandwich/best soup I’ve ever had.
But her favorite response comes from people who really get what Wild Plum is doing.
“They see that we’re really creating a community through food and they thank me genuinely, and say we’ve not met their expectations, we’ve exceeded them,” Burns says. “They say, ‘I see your mission on my plate in front of me and taste it in the food.’”
Wild Plum Café and Bakery is located at 731 Munras Ave., Suite B, in Monterey. During the Coronavirus pandemic it is open from 7am to 3pm for take out, curbside pick up and free delivery. Menu will include breakfast and lunch items, and a nightly featured family meal to serve two or four. Regular hours are 7am-4:30pm Wednesday-Saturday, 7am-3pm Sunday-Monday, closed Tuesday.