Unless you’ve neglected to dine out over the last several years, chances are you’ve come across the “farm-to-table” concept—a very California-esque experience that highlights seasonal produce, products and meats, most sourced from local providers. This ingredient-forward menu is so beloved by chefs and patrons, it would be near impossible not to experience this affectionate approach somewhere in the Golden State—that rich, diverse cornucopia of fresh, edible fare.
But how well do you actually get to know the grower who raised your grass-fed steak, harvested your broccoli flowers or crafted the cheese on your charcuterie plate? Aside from carefully worded menu descriptions and the enamored assurance of your waiter, you’re often left to your own imagination as you take each delicious bite and wonder, “How did we get here?”
The closest most of us ever get to the farmer is at the farmers market, a romantic gathering of local agriculture purveyors showcasing their weekly wares. And while we might visit one of these markets every blue moon, it’s the good restaurant chef who frequents most—picking and choosing the best of the best for his or her dishes later that day.
“I make efforts to spend time at the various farmers markets throughout the Los Angeles area,” shares Chef Andrew Vaughan, who oversees the menu at Terranea Resort’s signature venue, mar’sel. “From Venice to Hollywood and back to Santa Monica, there is always a plentiful market to visit throughout the week in the area. It is an exercise in study of what the season has to offer in the moment and truly inspires me to create amazing offerings.”
It was this contact—the relationships built over weeks and months of up close and personal commerce—that inspired Chef Andrew to bring a piece of his experience to his dining guests. Beginning in March he will host the Farm and Vine Dinner Series at mar’sel, a five-course wine pairing featuring a guest farm for an evening of cuisine and conversation.
“It’s a cycle of evolutionary importance, and it’s a two-way relationship,” shares Chef Andrew of the alliance between chef and provider. “There comes a time where a bond is created through constant collaboration, and education plays an important role in the process.”
For the premiere dinner on March 23, Chef Andrew will welcome Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms in the Greater Bakersfield area, Tehachapi and Lucerne Valley. Alex is the son of Sid Weiser, a former chemistry teacher and counselor at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles who in 1977 decided to pack up the family and follow his dream of working off the land. With his wife, Raquel, they learned to tend to the fruit trees, apples, peaches and pears, and eventually acquired more farmland to branch out into a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
“It was a passion of my parents,” shares Alex. “Growing up in the city, it was always something we wanted to do.” But with passion comes price, and the farm struggled in the beginning to make ends meet. Like other small farms, the Weisers had to compete with the “big guys”—farms producing quantity over quality at lower price points.
“Food was so boring back then,” says Alex. “It was not about flavor or diversity at all. And because of the competition, our dream was not immediately happening.”
Enter the farmers market.
In the early ‘80s, Governor Jerry Brown passed laws that made it easier for small growers to get their products in front of consumers directly at local markets. At first Alex’s father sent his eager son with their apples to the markets as a means to save extra money to pay for college.
“We were right there at the beginning,” says Alex. “And once we realized we could make great money at these venues, we completely changed our business plan to maximize our sales.”
At the farmers markets, Alex encountered chefs and other consumers who wanted seasonal, quality produce … and most importantly, flavor. He listened and began creating a bio-diverse farm dedicated to applying sustainable farming techniques. In doing so, he could supply people with unique fruits and vegetables at their peak, rather than picked for commercial usage.
“All these well-known chefs began asking us, ‘Can you grow this? Can you grow that?’” Alex remembers. “Things that the bigger producers wouldn’t even think of growing. Turns out there were people who wanted to buy purple potatoes. And we were going to be the ones to bring them to them.” Following the farmers market renaissance and the dynamic California food movement that emerged in subsequent years, the Weiser family business not only survived; it flourished.
“Alex truly innovates as a farmer and dedicated grower,” says Chef Andrew. “He has an immense amount of knowledge and is always trying new things and finding ways to evolve and educate his communities as well as educate chefs. He is a tremendous asset to the industry and is inspiring. His product is pristine.”
As he believes Weiser Family Farms takes good care of them, Chef Andrew and other chefs and culinary staff at the resort frequently pay it forward with routine visits to the farm, to see where the product comes from and even assist in the harvesting. “At the end of the day it’s all about providing exceptional customer service, and we all share that gift,” says the chef. “It makes the work rewarding and super special.”
“It’s a mutual love,” adds Alex. “We grow food for them, and they create beautiful, delicious dishes with our products for their guests.”
On March 23, Alex Weiser will be the star of the evening, sharing his stories about their farm practices. Items from the menu will directly reflect what’s in season right now and showcase the quality and flavor of the Weiser product. In addition, the chef will pair select wines from the resort’s signature cellars and top wineries throughout the region.
Here’s a preview of the special menu created for guests joining the experience:
Beet Salad on Sonora Red Fife Blend
Magic Myrna Gnocchi, Broccoli Diciccio, Guanciale
Pork Rilettes, Confit Baby Carrots, Carrot Bone Marrow
Venison Loin, Salsify, Weiser Fingerling Crisps
Duo of California Cheese, Bellewether Camordy, Marin French
Brie, Rye Toast
The Farm and Vine Dinner at mar’sel on March 23 will commence with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. $225 per person. For more information, visit terranea.com or call 844-479-2620.
Written by Darren Elms