by Kimberli Hull
Having visited Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz previously, we knew attending one of their highly-acclaimed farm to table dinners would be an amazing experience. A luxury resort and spa that also manages to be comfortable and fun, the hotel is surrounded by 300 acres of tall trees and beautiful vistas. Add to that a friendly staff and phenomenal restaurants, and a visit to the resort is a perfect spot for relaxation, some great hiking, and enjoyment of delicious food and beverages.
Invited to attend one of Chaminade’s farm to table dinner series, I was instantly curious as to how it was all pulled together and asked if we could go behind the scenes for the event. Chaminade agreed and granted us full a
Chaminade Resort & Spa’s Farm to Table Wine Dinners
Now in their ninth season, the Farm to Table Wine Dinners at Chaminade have developed a devoted following of Northern and Central Californians with a passion for the finest in locally sourced cuisine.
Chaminade’s farm to table series includes dinners spaced throughout the growing season, each highlighting the finest ingredients straight from the fields of local farms and expertly paired with wines from a nearby winery. Diners are treated to a delightful evening in an idyllic setting overlooking the Monterey Bay, beginning with a wine reception and followed by a multi-course dinner, with wine poured freely throughout.
What is Farm to Table?
While it seems like nearly every restaurant you enter these days uses farm to table or farm to fork to describe their menu offerings, the concept is more than just a trendy phrase. Twenty years ago, if you asked most five-year olds where carrots or potatoes came from, most would probably have answered “the grocery store.” Fortunately, in recent years, an appreciation for food of higher quality has resulted in a resurgence of farmers markets, farm stands and home gardening.
Obviously, produce picked, transported only a short distance, and eaten quickly is fresher and more flavorful than those harvested too early to avoid spoilage while they are transported long distances. Simply compare the taste of a homegrown tomato from a backyard vegetable patch to one that was picked greenish, then shipped for days before arriving at a store, and it is easy to understand why chefs embrace the farm to table movement.
Locally sourced ingredients are also at their peak nutritional value, healthier and support and celebrate the small farms that strive to deliver premium products.
Farm to table, when crafted by talented chefs, transforms those higher quality ingredients into artisanal cuisine. Typically presented at long tables in stunning surroundings, the farm to table dinner creates a dining experience that is as memorable as it is delicious.
The journey from farm to table
We decided to begin our behind the scenes look at a farm to table dinner by finding out just how local the food and wine that would be served during the dinner really was by visiting the featured farm and winery. We didn’t have to venture far.
The Farm: Everett Family Farm
Located about four miles from Chaminade, just outside the quaint town of Soquel, California, visitors are greeted to Everett Family Farm on Old San Jose Road with signs proclaiming, "Don't panic, eat it's organic" and "Buy Fresh, Buy Local Here."
A California Certified Organic Farm (CCOF), Everett Family Farm grows fruit and vegetables on 45 beautiful, sunny acres. Rich and Laura Everett, along with their three daughters, have operated the farm since 2001. In addition to offering organic produce, the Everett’s raise chickens which provide fresh eggs, grow flowers, make an apple cider each fall, and produce an estate grown hard cider, Soquel Cider.
Pulling into the farm, lettuce grows in a sheltered building and, off to the left, a charming farm stand awaits filled to the brim with the freshest vegetables, fruits, eggs, and ciders.
The Everetts' farm stand runs on the honor system. Visitors simply make their selections, then head over to the table to weigh their items, add up what they owe, and leave their payment in the black box.
In addition to the farm stand, the Everetts' produce and products can be found at local farmers markets and grocers. The Everett Family Farm is located at 2111 Old San Jose Road, Soquel and is open from 10 am to 6 pm, seven days of the week except for holidays.
The Wine: Martin Ranch Winery
Martin Ranch Winery sits a short 33 miles away from Chaminade at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
A beautiful winery with spectacular views and a peacefulness not found in many spots, Martin Ranch was created by Thérèse & Dan Martin, who were both born and raised in the Santa Cruz area.
The couple has owned and worked the ranch for over 30 years, producing award-winning red and white wines, gaining praise and a loyal following of wine club fans along the way. Dan produces under the J.D. Hurley label and Thérèse under the Thérèse Martin brand.
The sign on the winery building says, "Tradition - Passion - Excellence," and the wines, the winery and the Martins demonstrate those qualities aren't just words on a placard nailed to the wall. The Martins have a passion and dedication to producing excellent wines while maintaining a commitment to sustainability and preservation of the environment.
In addition to the vineyards, the winery has large, raised bed gardens and even chickens on the grounds. Very cool and definitely worth a visit! Martin Ranch Winery is located at 6675 Redwood Retreat Road, Gilroy California and is open to the public every first & third weekend of the month from 12-5 PM for tasting and barrel samplings.
The Chef: Nick Church
Executive Chef, Nick Church, and his crew created a six-course menu for the evening, celebrating the locally grown delicacies and wines.
With the exception of taking time away from Chaminade in 2014 to open a restaurant, Chef Church has been with the resort's culinary team since starting as a line cook in 1994. Now Chaminade's Executive Chef, he has experienced most of the farm to table dinners at the hotel since their inception.
We grabbed a few minutes of his time and asked him to reflect on how he has seen the farm to table movement change through the years and how local sourcing affects his menu development on a daily basis.
After nine seasons of farm to table dinners at Chaminade, how have you seen the farm to table movement evolve?
"The excitement is still there from everyone including the Farmers, Wineries and the staff. I think the guests receive a fantastic and unique experience while learning about the local food, wine, and ingredients. When we run the dishes in Linwood's that are created for the farm to table events, they tend to be very successful."
How does your planning and preparation differ for a farm to table dinner versus a typical banquet or wedding?
"Planning a farm to table dinner takes time. Everyone always asks what's on the menu but I don't like writing the menu until I know what the farmer can provide. The ingredients are based on what's in season and then the menu is created. I take the ingredients and use them in all the dishes and help pair the wines as well. The main goal is to make the guests happy. With weddings and banquets, the dishes are pre-selected usually a month or two in advance and of course pre-sold to the clients. We do try to use as many local ingredients as possible when preparing for dishes for weddings and banquet events."
For the other 360 days of the year when you aren't doing a farm to table dinner, how do local food choices factor into your menus at Chaminade?
"This is a tough question. Farm to table events are special to me and gets me and my staff out of our routine so to speak. I am naturally a shy person so getting out in front of the farm to table attendees is exciting for me. We are always trying to use local vendors for produce for Linwood's as well as the fresh fish when in season to create our specials."
We arrived early to catch the staff in motion setting up for the dinner and preparing the two beautifully decorated tables where 96 people would soon gather to enjoy the evening.
Casual flowers arrangements of sunflowers, daisies, eucalyptus and purple status provided bursts of color along the long white tables. Small jars of wildflower honey from Carmel Honey Company welcomed each guest to their place setting. There's something about a beautifully set table that evokes excitement and anticipation.
Vats of white wine chilled, bottles opened, glasses arranged, and a frenzy of activity occurred in the kitchen and prep areas. With precision, the Chaminade staff expertly pulled all the pieces together and, as the guests arrived, the makings for a perfect evening under clear Santa Cruz skies were all in place.
Reception Flat Bread, Padron Peppers, Ahi Poke,
Scotch Egg, Seascape Strawberry with Blue Cheese, Sliders
As the guests arrived, they selected their choice of wine and chatted casually as an array of appetizers were passed.
From delicious strawberries with blue cheese to a mouth-watering ahi poke, the crowd loved the morsels of goodness as the reception kicked into gear. I chose to begin the evening, as I typically do, with a Sauvignon Blanc, which was delightfully crisp and bright.
As I chatted with the winemakers, Thérèse & Dan, Dan told me they use acacia wood barrels, which I found fascinating as acacia trees are what giraffes eat in the Serengeti. How cool! The conversations that occur at dinners like this are priceless.
With wines pouring, guests mingled, old friends reacquainted and new ones were made, as the fun crowd enjoyed the gorgeous late evening views at the resort which reach to Monterey Bay.
Starter Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad
Taking seats at the communal tables, the first course of an heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella salad arrived. A showcase of the freshness of the late summer produce, the perfectly ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella were brimming with both color and taste.
Soup Sun Gold Cherry Tomato Soup
A huge fan of tomato soup, I was ready and waiting for this course and it was absolutely wonderful! The soup was fresh, lively and filled with flavor.
As we progressed through the evening, our hosts addressed the group, relating their take on the farm to table experience and what it means from each of their perspectives. Dan Everett talked organic farming. Thérèse Martin brought the winemaker's take.
And, the very talented, super nice, and uber-cool Kirsten Ponza, Food & Beverage director for Chaminade and former tour chef for the Rolling Stones, relayed Chaminade's commitment to sustainability and toasted the crowd.
Salad Bambi Little Gem Lettuce, Smoked Goat Cheddar,
Honey Crisp Apples, Pistachio, Cider Vinaigrette
The Everetts are well-known and highly praised for their Honey Crisp Apples, so it is no surprise the fruit stole the show with this salad. The crisp, juicy apple that has a devoted, and well-deserved following, so perfectly paired with the smokey cheese and the pistachios gave the salad just the right pop of added flavor.
And, another interesting tidbit picked up from the farm to table dinner. Each of the purveyors has a "his and her" collection in addition to their joint efforts. The above-mentioned Honeycrisp is Rich Everett's focus, while Laura targets heirloom apples for her ciders. With the Martins, each has their own wine labels, while also a combined winemaking focus.
Entree California Lamb, Oven Roasted Yukon Potato with Purple Garlic,
Roasted Baby Carrots, Baby Vegetables, Syrah Reduction
Not one, but two thick, juicy pieces of lamb were the stars of the fifth course. It may have been the first time I've seen diners high-five over an entrée.
Served alongside Yukon potatoes, baby carrots and with a Syrah reduction, the guests were ecstatic as the dish was presented, and then a hush fell across the tables as they devoured the entrée. For the vegetarians in the group, an exquisite stuffed pepper rounded out the savory portion of the evening's menu. Served alongside the entrée course, the Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Syrah was sublime. Luscious and spicy, it was elegant and is truly a special wine.
Dessert Crème Caramel
Who could think after all that food that we could even entertain dessert, but managed to devour the creme caramel. Rich, smooth and with great caramel flavor, it was a perfect finish to an amazing dinner!
There's another element to any fabulous party or event - the guests! Arriving early and staying late, the Farm to Table guests were there to enjoy the food and wine and simply have some fun - and have fun they did!
With a strong contingent from the Martin Ranch Wine Club, groups getting away for the weekend from the bay area, and Santa Cruz locals, the mix of guests made for a lively evening filled with interesting conversations and a relaxed, vibrant atmosphere.
Many of the guests have attended numerous Chaminade farm to table dinners over the years, creating an experience that feels like a comfortable dinner party given by a talented host. Guests wandered from table to table and even into the prep area, chatting frequently with the Chaminade staff and even giving some of them friendly hugs throughout the evening.
And, speaking of the staff, true hospitality is both an art and skill - and there's one final element that must not go unmentioned.
The Chaminade staff
From our previous visit and this one, we've observed a culture at the resort that focuses on delivering quality in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. This culture of hospitality is more than serving good food and providing efficient service - it's what makes the food creative & exceptional and the service not perfunctory, but flawless and generous.
The Chaminade staff delivered a perfectly orchestrated dinner, executed flawlessly. The food was amazing and the service was friendly, with needs and wants anticipated and handled with care.
High praise and thanks to all that worked so hard to make a remarkable dining experience for 96 people on a picture-perfect evening in Santa Cruz!
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Chaminade Resort & Spa for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.