On Sunday, April 15, farmers, Santa Monica Farmers Market customers and guests were treated to a 21-course tasting menu at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel – all for one ticket price and all to benefit Southland Farmers’ Market Association. Southland was formed in 1981 by farmers at the first Los Angeles county farmers market in order to provide start-up and support services for farmers markets in the Southern California region.
The theme of the farmer/chef gala was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market with a special “thank you” to me, market manager Laura Avery. Twenty-one chefs who regularly shop at the Wednesday market, which has become the best place in LA for chefs to buy fresh, one-of-a-kind produce, volunteered their time and skills to team up with farmers who provided ingredients for delicious, market-inspired dishes. The Farmers’ Market gala took place on the upstairs foyer and grand ballroom of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, where 11 appetizer courses and six main courses were enjoyed, along with four dessert courses that were served in a smaller adjoining ballroom. Beverages were provided by three local wineries and distributors, a local artisinal vodka producer and a specialty beer maker.
Among the farmer/chef pairings of the evening were Loews Executive chef Gregg Wangard, who partnered with Redwood Hill Dairy Goat Farm from Sebastopol to create Tiger Shrimp with Vermouth Crema and Redwood Hill Goat Cheese Cavatelli; Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard, who created a strawberry gelato-filled pastry using McGrath Family Farms strawberries from Camarillo; and Campanile chef Mark Peel, who served braised veal short ribs with farmer Chris Cadwell’s artichokes and fava beans from Lompoc. Other chef/farmer parings featured Michael’s pastry chef Nikol Nakamura with Harry’s Berries; Alain Giraud with farmer Peter Schaner’s blood oranges and avocados; Wilshire chef Chris Blobaum with Coastal Farms spring vegetables over slow-roasted lamb; Joe Miller’s pork roast with a ragout of Rutiz Farms vegetables; Josie pastry chef Jonna Jensen’s lemon cheesecake with California Organic Fruit lemons topped with Whitney Ranch blueberries; AXE chef Joanna Moore’s appetizer salad with Bernard Ranch citrus and avocados; Getty Restaurant’s Anthony Jacquet and farmer Daisy Tamai’s green gazpacho with Dungeness crab; Rustic Canyon’s Samir Mohajer’s and Green Farms’ baby artichoke and asparagus salad; Providence’s Paul Shoemaker’s seafood ceviche with Polito Farms citrus; Lucques pastry chef Breanne Varela’s Windrose Farm apple and walnut raisin and meringue desserts; chef and event co-chair Dave Rubell’s wild mushroom polenta with mushrooms from mushroom forager David West; and Melisse’s Josiah Citrin’s King Salmon with Bernard Ranch avocado mousseline and blood orange vinaigrette.
The gala featured introductions by KCRW’s Good Food radio host Evan Kleiman, and a short presentation by Southland Executive Director Howell Tumlin, followed by a speech and brief history of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market by yours truly, who then presented a video of a day at the Wednesday market, which featured familiar faces of guests, farmers and chefs, all to delighted recognition. Many of the chefs then gathered on the stage for introductions and general acclaim by diners who had been well fed and feted throughout the evening. The Southland/Loews Farmers’ Market gala is the first of what is planned to be an annual event in Santa Monica, with many of the 350 guests, farmers and chefs promising to be back next year.