It’s officially summertime, and here in Santa Cruz we have one more reason to celebrate: Chaminade Resort’s annual Farm to Table Dinner series has begun! The always-enjoyable series showcases local farms and local wineries.
I had the pleasure of attending 2014’s debut event on June 6, and it lived up to my high expectations. I’ll provide some details below; meanwhile, I would go check your calendars right now for the rest of the season and make reservations—which are required—for one of the dinners.
2014 Chaminade remaining dinner dates are:
- July 11
- August 15
- September 12
- October 10
The cost is $80 per person and that includes hors d’oeuvres (served at the 6 p.m. reception), family style dinner (starts at 6:30 p.m.), dessert, and wine (served at reception AND dinner). Tax and gratuity are excluded. Call (831) 475-5600 or visit web site for details, including specific wineries/farmers for particular nights. The specific menu is posted as each event draws near.
Back to the June 6 dinner, created by the talented Kirsten Ponza. Chef Kirsten, who was promoted to Executive Chef in September 2013, is a delightful person to talk to about food and cooking. She knows a lot, and is excited when you ask her questions or make specific comments about a dish. Many people, including myself, relished our conversations the other night. When I asked her about the event, she said, “I love the Farm to Table series for many reasons. I get to talk to my guests attending and really get a feel for how they want their food…I also love the interaction with the local farms and wineries…The farmers can explain much better than I how much love and effort it takes to make something grow!” She also adds that it allows her to be very creative and “…hopefully change some minds out there on food people would like to eat.”
Throughout the evening, selections from Pelican Ranch Winery were poured including Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The wines were thoughtfully paired with various courses. Winery owner Phil and Peggy Crews were in attendance, and Phil shared a few facts about his Capitola winery and wines.
The produce featured in many dishes was from Santa Cruz’s Yellow Wall Farm, and owners Allen and Judy Rose Hasty were also at the event. Allen engaged the crowd with a couple anecdotes, and told attendees that although the farm mainly sells to restaurants and New Leaf Market, they do run a Saturday morning farm stand when the season really gets going later in the summer. Based on the freshness and flavors of the produce I tasted, I’ll be sure to seek that stand out. Chef Kirsten is a big fan: “Judy and Allen are true farmers in the sense that they care about everything that goes into the food they grow. The earth, the plant, the product. They are a great team that always has a smile and you can really tell that they love what they do! We here at Chaminade have had a solid relationship with them for several years now and I always look forward to the time when they email to say what’s available.”
At the reception, there were four appetizers including strawberries stuffed with smoked blue cheese and pancetta. I’m going to try making this at home, knowing I won’t get a version quite like the one I tasted, but I was absolutely inspired by the blend of flavors and textures. And it’s perfect for right now when fresh organic strawberries abound in Santa Cruz. Chef Kirsten said it was actually Yellow Wall Farm’s current delectable crop of strawberries that helped inspire the stuffed strawberries, in addition to the gazpacho (which I’ll discuss soon). My other favorite appetizer at the reception was stuffed tempura squash blossoms. Absolutely perfect, these included goat cheese, basil, lemon zest and juice, and a light fritter batter.
At the sit-down dinner, our starter was a generous bowl of strawberry hazelnut gazpacho. It was incredible: creamy, and not too sweet. The Belle Farms olive oil and chive garnish complemented the soup beautifully, in terms of both taste and aesthetics. The first course of baby romaine with citrus avocado relish and third course of duck confit with Mediterranean cous cous were very pleasing, but I was even more taken with the second course. The baked ravioli (see photo at beginning of article) were served with a rich, wonderful medley of gourmet mushrooms – oyster, trumpet, shiitake, portabella, and cremini – and a savory tomato/herb Aurora Crème sauce. Dessert was the perfect finish, a honey mousse atop jasmine-scented cake, served with delicious raspberry dessert wine from Pelican Ranch.
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Farm to Table Dinner Series
Monthly through October 2014: Selected Fridays at 6 p.m.
Courtyard Terrace at Chaminade Resort, One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz 95065
$80 per person