A Trend on the Grow

Local chefs and foodies adopt and begin to promote the philosophy of sustainable food

Sense’s Chilly Cucumber Soup made with diced vegetables, sun-dried tomato pesto, feta cheese, pine nut oil. Summer Veggies Tagliatelle with torpedo onions, five types of summer squash, peppers, purple haze garlic, cherry tomatoes, aged Gouda, and homemade pasta with cream, lemon, and white truffle oil, served cold; and Sugar Kiss Melon Salad, Tuscan melon, goat cheese, bacon, preserved lemon oil, and lavender micro mint. The wine is Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma County, Fumé Blanc, 2010

Photography by Jon Edwards

Salad choices seldom paralyze your decision-making, but last spring at Sense in Palm Desert, you might have flipped a coin: Sugar Kiss Melon Salad (preserved lemon, lavender mint, goat cheese, olive oil, and bacon) or Roasted Beet Mosaic (organic beets, orange supremes, Maytag blue cheese, pickled ramp bulbs, Pharaoh’s heirloom lemon dressing, and hazelnuts).

Either offers a light, tasty preamble to the Roasted Chicken, served with smashed sweet potato, Crucolo (an artisanal cheese), cippolinis, tomato, and pesto.

Innovative and loaded with flavor, these dishes also have the distinction of being sustainable. That is, the ingredients are farmed in such a way that they can be produced continually and with regard to environmental issues and animal welfare. Sustainability is a philosophy gaining popularity among a growing number of chefs, foodies, and casual diners mindful of the way they purchase, prepare, and consume food.

At Sense, owner and Executive Chef Robert Douglas prepares a menu that changes daily with the availability of locally grown and organic ingredients — including fruits and vegetables from the certified farmers market in Palm Springs.

Walking around the market and talking with other local chefs reveals that Chef Robe (as Sense co-owner Ben Nance and frequent customers call him) is in fine company.

“From a chef’s point of view, sustainability is a win-win situation,” says Andrew Copley, owner and executive chef of Copley’s on Palm Canyon in Palm Springs. “Buying organically grown produce, chicken, meat, and fish helps the farmers and helps the chef present a fresh and healthy menu to patrons.”

Local chefs also embrace the sustainability movement by including vegetarian and vegan items in their fare; avoiding preservatives; and using hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, chicken, and dairy products, as well as fish raised in pristine conditions.

Some restaurants have their own gardens on premises. Executive Chef Robert Nyerick at Grove Artisan Kitchen at Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells has an herb garden and grows citrus and Kalamata olives on the property. Likewise, Copley uses herbs grown in his restaurant’s on-site garden and buys produce from the local farmers market.

At the certified farmers markets in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and La Quinta (all sponsored by the Palm Springs Cultural Center owned by Ric and Rozene Supple), 26 California farms participate, interacting with shoppers and sharing tips on how to prepare the produce they sell. Chefs who buy and prepare sustainable foods relish the opportunity to tell you how they source ingredients and parlay them into creative fare. Chef Robe makes a point of visiting tables and sharing his methods with diners.

When speaking to the converted, you’ll likely hear two themes: your health and your environment. “For your body, eat things that nourish and extend your life and keep everything functioning,” says Jimmy Schmidt, a pioneer in sustainable cooking and executive chef of Morgans in the desert at La Quinta Resort & Club. “And grow crops and food in a way that will preserve our planet for future generations.”

Education rules in the sustainability movement. At Agua Caliente Elementary School in Cathedral City, students begin learning about food sources as early as first grade. Teacher Cathy Liss, a regular at the Palm Springs farmers market, takes vegetables to school and introduces students to the edible plants they can grow in their school garden. “I am thrilled that an indoor market was available all summer,” she says. “And I feel so lucky to have it so close to home, as I value sustainable living.”

The farmers at the market even take special orders and deliver them the following week — a service that part-time Palm Springs resident Stephen Locascio appreciates. The entertainment industry publicist, who also has a home in Manhattan Beach, orders many foods that supermarkets do not stock. “I do all the cooking in my household and feel strongly that we need to eat things meant to be eaten in season, locally grown organically,” he says. “We should build our menus accordingly. I find it amazing to have such a seasonal variety at hand.”

Coachella Valley Farmers Markets

Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 1515 Sixth St. At Coachella City Hall

Sundays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 78100 Main St. West of La Quinta City Hall off Calle Tampico

Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 72559 Highway 111 Adjacent to Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce  

Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 2300 E. Baristo Road Adjacent to Camelot Theatres (Inside Palm Springs Mall during the summer)

For more information, call Paul Palodichuk at 1-760-898-5250 or visit  www.certifiedfarmersmarket.org.

Leaders of the Pack

Slow Food Desert Cities helps local schools build gardens to teach students the values of eating locally, seasonally, and sustainably. Its fifth annual Farm to Table Celebration is set for May 20, 2012, at Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells. www.slowfooddesertcities.org

Hidden Harvest collects fresh produce left in the fields after harvesting by Coachella Valley farms and gives it to more than 60 agencies that distribute the yield to more than 44,000 low-income residents. www.hiddenharvest.org

Coachella Valley Green connects residents to “green” information, services, events, technology, and products. www.coachellavalleygreen.com

Palm Springs Green Scene promotes sustainability in the areas of energy, climate, food, water, habitat, waste, and nature conservation. www.palmspringsgreenscene.com

Palm Springs Office of Sustainability hosts film screenings, composting workshops, alternative fuel and electric vehicle exhibits, and more. www.yoursustainablecity.com

Palm Springs Life also recommends Sustainable Table, which promotes local, small-scale, sustainable farming (www.sustainabletable.org), and American Community Gardening Association (www.communitygarden.org), which helps communities stimulate social interaction, self-reliance, and beautification while producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources, and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education.


>> The Palm Springs chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier contributes to Palm Springs High School’s student garden in conjunction with the organization’s Green Tables program.
>> The City of Palm Springs’ Office of Sustainability and Green Team has a community garden in the works at Demuth Park.
>> At King’s Highway in Palm Springs’ Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Executive Chef Craig Mattox buys organic produce from County Line Harvest in Thermal and deposits his daily kitchen and dining room waste into the property’s Ecovin USA recycling system. County Line Harvest picks up the sterile organic waste when delivering produce, then mixes it into the farm soil, helping to grow better produce.
>> Almost half of the wine list at Trio Restaurant in Palm Springs is certified and from organic or biodynamic vineyards using sustainable practices.  The restaurant belongs to the One Bottle, One Tree program. For every bottle of Trinity Oaks wine sold, the winery plants one tree.

Chilly Cucumber Soup
Serves 8
1     large European cucumber
1 cup    organic Sweet ‘n Sour mix
1 cup     half and half
2 cups     water
1     yellow pepper (diced)
1     cucumber (diced)
1    red onion (diced)
1    ear corn (shaved)
1 t.     sun-dried tomato pesto
1 t.     crumbled feta
1 t.     pine nut oil
Place first four ingredients in blender
Add scrap pieces from diced veggies
Blend until smooth
Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste
•    Make a mound of diced veggies in each bowl
Garnish each bowl with all diced veggies, pesto, pine oil, feta cheese
•    Let each diner pour the blended cucumber over the veggie mound
•    when they are ready to eat so that veggies will be crunchy.
•    See the illustration, this is the way Chef Robe serves this delicious
•    soup at Sense Restaurant

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