Lily Belli on Food: Teen Kitchen Project turns 10, Salmon Week and why Lily’s pesto was almost the best-o
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… Grab your ticket now for Teen Kitchen Project’s 10th-anniversary celebration Oct. 1 at Everett Family Farm in Soquel. Since 2012, the local nonprofit has taught teens how to cook and work in a kitchen while preparing hundreds of thousands of meals for community members in need. To celebrate this milestone, teens participating in the program and guest chefs will serve a multicourse feast at Rich and Laura Everett’s beautiful farm along Soquel Creek at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. TKP Executive Director Angela Farley tells me that the teens will create the first-course salad and dessert, while chef Diego Felix of Fonda Felix and Colectivo Felix, whom I profiled last fall, will provide the appetizer and chef Brad Briske of Home restaurant will create the main dish and vegetables sides. All of the dishes will feature Everett Family Farms produce. Tickets are $155.49 per person; make reservations here. Most of the 200 tickets have already been sold, Angela says, so don’t delay if you’d like to attend. All the proceeds from ticket sales go directly to TKP’s meals program.
… The commercial California king salmon season opened earlier this month, but there’s more to this fascinating fish than its flavor. This week, UC Santa Cruz and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center are hosting the inaugural Salmon Week, with a series of events that celebrate salmon. On Wednesday, visit the Seymour Center for the opening of an interactive kelp forest exhibit, an ecosystem that plays a vital role in the salmon life cycle. On Thursday in the Seymour Center lecture hall, learn how the CZU Lightning Complex fires affected our local endangered fish population at the film premier of “Southern Range: Salmon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” On Friday, Seymour Center members are invited to join Eric Palkovacs, director of the Fisheries Collaborative Program, on a guided tour of the Scott Creek watershed, which is home to steelhead trout and coho salmon. Salmon Week culminates Saturday at the World Fish Migration Day Festival, a free, family-friendly event with food trucks, a salmon obstacle course, arts and crafts, where visitors can learn more about what’s being done to protect our local fishery. Most of the events are free, but have limited seating. See the full calendar at seymourcenter.ucsc.edu.
… On Sunday, I was one garlic clove and a pinch of salt away from a free trip to Genoa, Italy, to compete in the World Pesto Competition — that was the prize given to Paso Robles-based chef Jacob Burrell, the winner of regional qualifying held over the weekend at Mentone. A few weeks ago, I wrote that chef David Kinch would welcome Genovese chef and “Pesto King” Roberto Panizza to his Aptos restaurant for two special Ligurian dinners and the competition. Well, last week Chris Sullivan, general manager at Mentone, told me there was an extra spot in the pesto-making competition and invited me to join. A few days later, I found myself lined up inside the restaurant with nine other contestants. We were all given the same seven traditional ingredients — basil leaves, coarse salt, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses — and 20 minutes to make our best-o pesto with a mortar and pestle.
Fortified with many YouTube videos and one of Mentone’s famous Aperol spritz slushies, I pesto’d like I have never pesto’d before. Before this weekend, I usually made pesto in a blender, which slices everything together, but after experiencing how the pestle breaks open the plant cells to release beautiful aromas and flavors, I’m never going back.
Here are the tips I can now pass along:
First, pulverize garlic and pine nuts to a paste, then work in the tender basil leaves with a pinch of salt until the sauce is homogenous and bright green. Add two parts sweet, nutty Parmesan to one part funky, salty Pecorino and finish with a little bit of olive oil. Not too much! Kinch told me that the key is both to use less garlic and oil and add more pine nuts than you’d think.
I’m proud to have placed third overall — I nailed the texture, but added a bit too much salt and garlic. But what a wonderful afternoon with my friends and family cheering me on, enjoying tangerine-colored spritzes and the scent of basil leaves and garlic hanging in the air. Thank you, Mentone! I’ll see you at the next match in two years — and I’ll be ready!
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Santa Cruz-based Kitchen Witch Bone Broth announced last week that, after eight years, the company is ending production of its organic broths and soups. The cause of the closure isn’t changing consumer taste or low sales — it’s an international glass shortage that has plagued food businesses since the start of the pandemic. Kitchen Witch is committed to using only glass for its products for health and environmental reasons, co-founder Magalí Brecke told me, and after two years the issue became untenable. Read more on the closure here.
35 — The number of Santa Cruz County food trucks and pop-ups in Lookout’s upcoming food truck and pop-up guide ... so far. That’s not a small number for one medium-sized county, but I bet I’m missing a few. I’ve scoured the internet and mined my personal experiences, but I could use your help. Text or email me your favorites before the guide comes out next week.
- Events & Food Drives Project Manager at Second Harvest Food Bank
- Certified Personal Fitness Trainer at UC Santa Cruz
- Farm Manager at Homeless Garden Project
“More and more people are recognizing that vegan food is just good food. People are seeing it less as something different and weird and something that’s just delicious.” — Sweet Bean Bakery owner Julia Daniel, who creates exceptional breakfast pastries, cakes and bagels without any animal products. See how Daniel perfected their croissant recipe, and where to find their treats, in Friday’s Eaters Digest.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
My experience at the pesto competition over the weekend opened my eyes to the beauty of the mortar and pestle. I never really understood before why it was worth the effort and burning biceps when the food processor exists, but as food scientist Kenji Lopez-Alt explains, the pestle breaks plant cells open, releasing their natural flavors, juices and aromas, while a blender blade merely slices them into smaller pieces. Plus, although it’s more effort, it’s also way more fun. Now all I can think about is buying my own mortar and pestle so I can gently emulsify garlic and olive oil into a French aioli and finally make fragrant Thai curry with the frozen makrut limes Hanloh chef Lalita Kaewsawang gave me months ago. To those similarly converted — what other recipes are worth busting out the mortar and pestle for? Tell me via text or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK, I’M LISTENING …
… to “Are Mushrooms Socialist? Inside the Mania on TikTok and Beyond,” the newest episode of “Extra Spicy,” the food podcast by San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho. Ho interviews TikTok mycologist Gordon Walker on what’s behind mushroom mania. We are no strangers to fungus foraging in Santa Cruz County — the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz has been active for more than 40 years. It’s interesting to hear how the hobby is gaining widespread appeal again and how members of the community are dealing with issues of representation and conservation. Walker also shares his thoughts on a controversial topic: Should you cut or pluck?
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ The best places to eat and drink in downtown Santa Cruz in 2022 (San Jose Mercury News)
➤ Black Restaurant Week returns to the East Bay (Oaklandside)
➤ Many of Monterey County’s hidden kitchens are culinary knockouts (Monterey County Weekly)
Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.