Have you ever wished you had a food and beverage guide to take you to the top places and get you the inside scoops and best sips? Food Writer Alison Costa started Ventura Food Tours, in California, and tells about her tours and personal journey in her own words.
Ojai Food Tour-
By Allison Costa
On a recent tour, I led a group of nine people to a series of my favorite places in Ojai, all while adding in some tidbits about Ojai history, architecture, and this quaint little California town’s ardent food scene.
We started with handmade tamales at La Fuente Gourmet Tamales - tasting their savory green chile and cheese tamale and a sweet corn tamale. As we savored the dense treats, we heard first hand from the owner Yolanda Vega. She explained that in Mexico, tamales are usually eaten for breakfast, and often tucked into a sweet bolillo roll for a quick, but hearty meal on the go.
We proceeded next to Ojai Coffee Roasting Company, where Kent Jones walked the group through a coffee tasting, allowing them to compare the difference between a lightly roasted Guatemalan coffee and another batch of coffee that he roasted to a deep dark brown (a matter of minutes in the roaster). We even got to sneak back into the room where the magic happens: surrounded by bags of coffee beans, he explained the roasting process in depth and answered the group’s questions.
Next we stopped at Los Caporales, where we enjoyed two unique dishes and heard the stories behind them from the owner, Leticia Salinas. With her lovely smile and warm, welcoming demeanor, it is easy to fall in love with Leticia - especially when you taste her “chile relleno con carne de la abuelita.” This one of a kind chile relleno is filled with a tangy ground beef mixture, ‘grandmother’s meat’, a family recipe that her grandmother used to make when traveling from Guadalajara to Zapotlanejo in Mexico. The meat is cooked low and slow with almond sauce and vinegar, giving it an unforgettable flavor, and then stuffed into a pasilla chile, finished with fresh tomato sauce, a drizzle of sour cream, and a sprinkling of toasted pecans.
After that, we walked a few more blocks down Ojai Avenue to the Ojai Beverage Company for a beer tasting, where owner Jorge Alem walked the group through a tasting of three different beers, starting with a light hefeweizen, and finishing with a dark and gutsy imperial stout. We learned that when it comes to tasting beer, unlike when tasting wine, a sip will not do. Instead, in order to experience the full essence of a beer, you must drink around three to four ounces. Determined to get the full experience, we all happily dove right in to the twelve ounces of beer laid before us.
The tour concluded with tastes of a fruit tart and dark chocolate cookies at Knead Baking Company, where we sat and chatted with owner Bobbi Corbin and her daughters Leah and Rachel. The trio have been in business together since 2007, after Bobbi left the world of architecture in Boston and moved west for a fresh start. Their pastries are rustic and simple and often finished with fresh and candied citrus grown in the Ojai area.
As we sat at Knead, happily full and tired from the day, the group was chatting about their favorite stops on the tour. As we talked, I couldn’t help but smile as I reflected upon how I ended up here, doing what I’m doing.
Its funny how a single moment can change your life. My moment came a few years back. I was a new mom and I was trying desperately to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. After time working in the field of outdoor education and in the world of nonprofits, I was looking for something new to do, something that I could do from home, something that would allow me to still be a mostly full-time parent, but also give me something outside of that.
But I just couldn’t figure out what that thing was. So I waited. And waited. Sure, I peeked on Craigslist here and there. I prayed a little bit for that epiphany to come. And I waited some more.
And one day, I saw a job posting for a restaurant critic, and I knew, I just knew that this was that moment. I had this tingly feeling in my gut - you know that feeling when you are hiding a really big secret? I knew: This was the break I had been looking for.
So a few days later, I set out, little notebook in hand, and ate at one of my favorite breakfast places. When I sat down at the computer later that day, the review just tumbled out of me. Who knew I was a writer? ! I sent my review in and sure enough, got the job.
After that, I approached a few other publications and got a little more work. It was the perfect job - I could do it from home and I could squeeze my writing in at night or even during school time. I was finally able to have balance - and be home when my kids got off the bus from school.
And that's the story of how I became a food writer. But my story doesn’t end there.
After a few years of writing, I found myself itching to do more. So again, I waited. And waited. And waited some more. And this time the epiphany was my husband’s - he heard about people doing food tours in other cities and thought I should look into it. And again, we just knew: this was it. What a perfect way to continue sharing my love of area restaurants and my passion for food.
And so in the summer of 2011, my business, Ventura Food Tours, was born. Though we started with the Downtown Ventura Tasting Tour (in nearby Ventura), we now offer our Eating Ojai Tour in Ojai as well.
On my tours, I get to share my passion for food and meet interesting people. And not too different from those wilderness experiences and ropes course programs I used to lead, I get to help people have a really good time.
Sure, they aren’t walking a tightrope or flying down a zipline, but they are learning about how chocolate truffles are made, what makes an olive oil extra virgin, and how hot a brick oven needs to be to make the perfect pizza. They get to experience the pleasure of tasting good cheese, local wine, and smooth and creamy gelato. They have an experience that stays with them.
And, I’m pretty sure, all of them leave with a full belly and a smile on their face.
Tours cost $59 per person, or $49 each if you purchase two or more tickets. Tours run on most Saturdays and begin at 10:30am. Visit www.venturafoodtours.com for more info and to see tour dates. Advanced reservations are required and groups are limited to 12 people. Private, mid-week tours also available upon request. Phone: 805-295-TOUR or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Alison Costa
Ventura Food Tours
La Fuente Gourmet Tamales
423 East Ojai Ave
Ojai Coffee Roasting Company
337 East Ojai Avenue
Los Caporales Mexican Restaurant
307 E. Ojai Avenue
Ojai Beverage Company
655 E. Ojai Ave.
Knead Baking Company
469 East Ojai Avenue
For more information on Ojai Festivals and great places to stay in Ojai, see Sonne's previous Examiner articles. For future stories by Sonne and Guest Authors, please click subscribe below
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