Friday, October 24, 2014

Edible Ojai: Clos des Amis - Passion for terroir leads Bruce Freeman on a path to source and bottle local grapes.

As published in Edible Ojai magazine, Summer 2014

Clos des Amis
Passion for terroir leads Bruce Freeman on a path to source and bottle local grapes.

Just back from an acupuncture appointment to help him heal from a bee that stung him while building his new Santa Paula winery, winemaker and all-around nice guy Bruce Freeman is talking in metaphors about getting bit by the wine bug back in 1994.

“I’ve just got to make this happen,” Freeman, 59, remembers thinking after making his first barrel of wine two decades ago. It was a Bien Nacido Syrah, which he says is a difficult and heavily nuanced wine. “It’s like learning how to drive in a Maserati.”

Fast forward to today, and Freeman is still pedal-to-the-metal when it comes to tackling lofty goals for the first time. He’s seeking to fully express the local terroir (French for “sense of place”) by sourcing grapes grown solely within Ventura County. To-date, he’s up to seven vineyards at private one- to two-acre parcels in Camarillo, Ojai, Santa Paula, East Ventura, Saticoy and Newbury Park producing Chardonnay, Grenache Rose, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and soon, Riesling, Mourvedre and Cincault. Though the county already boasts close to 20 wineries, very few are exclusively sourcing grapes grown here, a distinction Freeman is proud of.  He officially launched Clos des Amis (French for “circle of friends”) last year. His first vintage in 2011 yielded about 125 cases, and now he’s up to 250 cases.

Hoping to someday get to 1200 cases, winemaking remains a part-time affair at this point. A Ventura County native, Freeman’s day job is teaching art at Ventura College, which he’s been doing for some 20 years. It was one of his art students early on, winemaker Brooks Painter of Napa’s Coho Wines, who steered him toward the craft of winemaking.

“He got me started in my backyard.”

Wine and a love of terroir have always been in Freeman’s blood (his mother is French). It was the trips in his youth to visit relatives back in France that got the wheels turning. Upon returning home, Freeman remembers experimenting with making liqueurs.

“The food and wine culture there really piqued my interest.”

That experience informed his determination to showcase the local terroir.

“I grew up in Ventura County surrounded by this beautiful landscape and climate.”

After working with Painter, Freeman was introduced to Adam Tolmach of the critically-acclaimed Ojai Vineyard. Freeman interned for Tolmach during the summer months when he wasn’t teaching at the college.

“He really took me under his wing. And he’d be brutally honest.”

During his time with Tolmach, Freeman learned to appreciate starting small.

“Adam used to say, ‘You get too big, you start to lose the intimacy.’”

Today, Tolmach has only praise for Freeman.

“Bruce Freeman is a true artist in every sense,” Tolmach said recently. “What impressed me most during the years he worked with me at The Ojai Vineyard was that he took his soulful creativity into every realm.”

Since his time with Tolmach, Freeman has served as part-time winemaker for Casa Barranca in Ojai for the past four seasons, where he’s managed to pick up a few awards.

Now in his second year out on his own, Freeman is ready to take some controlled risks.

“You have to take some risks and let the wine and the vineyards express themselves.”

Working with a handful of smaller vineyards and going at this as a boutique winery, though, helps mitigate those risks.

“Commercial scale wineries come with a host of problems, which complicates the ease of harvest.”

Staying small and with separate parcels also helps Freeman take advantage of the county’s diverse geography and climate.

“You really see the difference in Ventura County terroirs. I like the wines to show more distinct character, and we have vineyards that can do that.

The proof is in the bottle. Right now, he’s excited about his Chardonnay, which he says has a “more lean mineral style,” and his Pinot Noir, which is “cherried and medium-bodied.” And looking to break a few stereotypes, he’s out to prove that Riesling can be “super dry and racy.”

Freeman says this year’s harvest will probably be as early as August, which he feels is “…just absurd. With this current season, we had bud break super early.”

Freeman’s wine labels tap into his artistic side, using his own drawings depicting local Chumash Indian artifacts, which he says brings his love of art, winemaking and the local area together.

“It’s a blend of who I am.”

As he continues building his winery—he’s converting an old agricultural building in the middle of an orchard in Santa Paula—he has no plans just yet to open a tasting room. For now, he says he will make his wines available to the public online and at locations around the county, including Paradise Pantry, Ventura Wine Co. and Santa Cruz Market.

Beyond that, Freeman isn’t too sure where things are headed, but he seems to like it that way.

“Will I make a dollar or not? I don’t know. I like to see what happens every day I wake up.”

For more, visit

For photos from this story and more from this issue, visit:

Edible Ojai: Osteria Monte Grappa fires up new pizza oven

As published in Edible Ojai magazine’s Edible Notes section, Spring 2014

Osteria Monte Grappa fires up new pizza oven

As part of a recent remodel, Osteria Monte Grappa installed a wood-fired pizza oven imported from Modena, Italy. With temperatures reaching as high as 1,000°, the oven turns out artisanal flatbread pizzas cooked to crispy perfection in just about two minutes flat. Complementing a menu of fresh pastas and rustic Northern Italian–inspired fare featuring local farmers’ market produce and meats, the pizza offerings run the gamut from the familiar pizza Margherita with fresh basil to the creative pizza di Stefano (a nod to the owner) with thin slices of speck (Northern Italian smoked prosciutto) and lightly dressed fresh arugula. In addition to the impressive list of Italian and California wines OMG has offered since opening in 2009, the restaurant’s new liquor license means a full-service bar with top-shelf spirits and fine Italian grappas, sambuca and limoncello. So customers can now belly up to the newly installed custom-built bar and enjoy a craft cocktail while watching the flames flicker inside the oven.

Osteria Monte Grappa
242 E. Ojai Ave.

Ukuleles and Craft Tiki Cocktails

As published in Ventana magazine, October 2014

Call of the Tropics

From Midtown to Downtown, Tiki culture is ablaze in Ventura—and it’s not just a string thing.

Photo of Brad Ranola by T Christian Gapen.
It’s been a banner year for Midtown Ventura’s Anacapa Ukulele. In February, Brad Ranola and his partners opened a second ukulele shop, in Los Angeles. In June they hosted the first L.A. Ukulele Expo, and now they are looking to expand the Ventura shop they first opened as a leap of faith three years ago.
The countless YouTube views of ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro shredding the cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” could be a big reason for their success. And who can forget Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s timeless but fairly recent “Somewhere over the Rainbow”? Ukulele music has come a long way since Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles.” The modern ukulele movement has indeed piqued the interest of a new generation of would-be players. But Ranola insists the instrument’s broad appeal is due to its size and ease of use.
“Four strings, four fingers is a lot easier than six strings, four fingers; and the nylon strings are easier on your hands,” Ranola says.
Along with a smaller, more portable size and the ergonomic benefits, the ukulele is also more affordable. And affordability doesn’t necessarily mean a compromise. As Ranola puts it, “A cheap ukulele sounds better than a cheap guitar.”
A professional international musician for the last 18 years, Ranola got bit by the ukulele bug five years ago, but in order to get ahold of the instrument he wanted, he had to call a friend in Hawaii. He soon realized this was a niche that needed to be filled.
“I really wanted to become proficient at this instrument, and what better way than to open my own shop?” Ranola says with a chuckle. It was also an opportunity for him to get off the road as a traveling musician and focus on his family. “I can still fulfill my love for music but be home more.”
With a mid-century vintage Hawaiian vibe, the Ventura shop’s design is meant to encourage hands-on interactivity with the instruments they have for sale. It’s this play-before-you-pay philosophy that draws customers in.
“Part of the reason why we opened, is you want to feel the instrument,” Ranola says. “It inspires you to want to play and get better. It’s more of an experience. It’s a place where people can play.”
Among the more unique ukuleles they sell are the bongolele, the banjolele, and a surfy ‘50s-era ukulele with an enormous headstock—to stick in the sand like a surfboard. They’ve also got an iconic triangle-shaped treholipee, “a fun kitschy instrument” that Ranola says would be perfect at a place like VenTiki Lounge.
While co-teaching a ukulele class at Disney Concert Hall with Grammy Award-winning Hawaiian musician Daniel Ho, Ranola shared what he and his partner Cary Hitsman had done at Anacapa Ukulele. Ho suggested a partnership with himself, blues ukulele master Jason Arimoto, and the Japanese American Cultural Community Center in Los Angeles. Within a year, U-Space opened their ukulele retail shop, ukulele school, and café in the heart of L.A.’s Little Tokyo. In addition, the partners dedicate a lot of their time to non-profit outreach, providing instruments and instruction to underprivileged youth in the community.
The instrument’s appeal to all ages is what’s proven to be particularly exciting for Ranola and his partners. “It’s a real communal instrument,” he says. “The ukulele is the great equalizer; there’s no ego. It’s a great instrument that can reach lots of demographics.”
Classes offered at both the Ventura and the Los Angeles locations attract all ages, from kids to seniors. “The kids play a lot of pop music, the older ones play early jazz, and obviously there’s a lot of Hawaiian music. We teach a lot of classical, reggae, and island music, too.”
Growing in popularity is the kanikapila—a sort of ukulele circle/jam session. Anacapa’s website lists several locations throughout Ventura County offering weekly gatherings. Ranola sees the company expanding in Ventura in much the same way U-Space did in Los Angeles. He’s hoping to soon add a café featuring local pour-over coffee and prepared sandwiches and pastries. “Coffee and ukulele go hand-in-hand,” Ranola says with a hopeful smile.
He could be on to something. The world could certainly use more coffee klatches and impromptu kanikapilas.

1899 E. Main St.; 805.500.6848,

Photo of Dr. Shocker by T Christian Gapen.
[SIDEBAR] VenTiki Lounge & Lanai
Despite its downtown location, you’re sure to feel like a castaway at VenTiki Lounge & Lanai. With its piped-in ukulele music and occasional orchestrated volcanic eruption, you can almost hear ripe coconuts falling to the ground. Cocktails are taken seriously here—you won’t find a drop of pineapple juice in the Mai Tai, which is made the proper way, right down to the hand-smacked mint leaves called for in the original recipe created by Trader Vic’s in Oakland in the 1930s.
“In the tiki community, we believe in traditional garnishes to accentuate the drink,” says Dr. Shocker, VenTiki’s manager and self-proclaimed evangelist preaching the gospel of tiki.
The first tiki movement came about when World War II soldiers returned home from the Pacific, but became a fad in the ‘70s when original drink recipes were lost and adulterated. “The ‘70s were the dark days of cocktails,” explains Dr. Shocker. “These drinks are part of the craft cocktail movement and made the correct way: light and refreshing and balanced, not sickeningly sweet.”
Since opening 15 months ago, the quirky little bar has become a popular locals’ hangout, and a regular stop for Ventura Food Tours. Drinks made with myriad ingredients are served in intricate tiki mugs and sometimes set ablaze.
“The Alter of Sacrifice—it just screams it needs fire.” Made with lime vodka, two kinds of bitters, and spiced vanilla syrup, it certainly does.
Dr. Shocker brings another Zombie to life.

Zombie Recipe

With Halloween approaching, a favorite seasonal cocktail is the Zombie, which was invented in the ‘30s by Don the Beachcomber.

¾ ounce lime juice
½ ounce grapefruit
1 ½ ounce pineapple juice
¼ ounce falernum liqueur
1 ¼ ounce gold rum
1 ounce dark rum
1 ounce Lemon Hart 151 rum
½ ounce grenadine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6 drops Pernod
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and pour into glass. Garnish with mint and lime.

VENTIKI LOUNGE & LANAI 701 E. Main St.; 805.667.8887,

The Edible Eden: A West Ventura twosome shows how to use permaculture to grow one bountiful garden.

As published in Ventana magazine, September 2014

The Edible Eden
A West Ventura twosome shows how to grow one bountiful garden.

Photo by T Christian Gapen.
Permaculture is a really big word for a remarkably simple concept. Ever since college, edible landscaper Eric Werbalowsky has been spreading the gospel of permaculture to anyone who will listen. A self-described compost evangelist, Werbalowsky has been both a consultant and an activist when it comes to creating landscapes that nourish both body and soul.
Last month, he once again gave his time, energy, and design expertise at the Ventura County Fair, with his floriculture exhibit showcasing Ventura Growing Circles—a burgeoning organization that promotes neighborhood food growing and sharing—and he took home a few blue ribbons, too. When he is not busy with his day job consulting, he volunteers for Ventura County Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Gardens initiative, which promotes eco-friendly landscapes, and he spends time at the Bell Arts Factory mentoring young would-be gardeners through the Kids Garden Brigade.

So, what exactly is permaculture?
Permaculture is about being in relationship with our environment, our community, our natural landscape, and our human-created landscape, and asks, “How do we use these systems with minimum input and run them as much as possible with sustainable resources?” You can design how you live so that it creates abundance instead of a burden.

What prompted you to go into this field?
When I was going to UCSB in the early ’80s, I took a course in food and ecosystems. I experienced this intense sense of “Oh, my God. What can I do?’ That’s when I began understanding what composting was. I learned to make humus. I learned to grow food. It was so simple and so basic, and it was part of a solution. It really felt positive.

We’re in a drought. How does permaculture address that?
Everybody is sticking their straw in the ground and taking, taking, taking. Permaculture addresses that and says putting running water down the drain isn’t where it’s at. With increased drought awareness and rising water rates, customers are asking for water-wise landscape renovations—replacing turf with mulches, installing laundry-to-landscape greywater systems and adding interesting motifs like dry creek beds with climate appropriate plants, especially California natives. Taking care of existing fruit trees, adding new ones, and making compact food beds are often an integral part of this work, too. As an edible landscaper, it's a little embarrassing to admit, but my new favorite garden features are well-placed rocks. I especially like the way they provide rhythm and strong texture to any landscape. We usually complement rockery with accent plants to take advantage of the microclimate benefits they can provide.

Would you say permaculture takes a lot of work and money, or is it good for those of us who tend to be lazy and frugal?
Permaculture design takes more thought than work or money. In fact, the basics of permaculture involve placing design elements so that as they grow and become more established, less work and inputs, including water, are required. It may seem esoteric at first, but when we can create a design that uses a site's natural energies of wind, sun, rain, animals, and plants, we can mimic the way natural systems become richer, more complex, and more productive over time, like a forest.

What’s unique about our area as it pertains to permaculture?
We have a number of climate zones in Ventura County. I can grow lettuce year-round, but a couple miles inland, no way, unless that climate is moderated in some way. Because we are in a Mediterranean climate, which is mild year-round, we can grow most things. If you like food, this is an amazing place to be.

How can a first-time gardener get started at home using permaculture without being intimidated?
Start really, really small and really close. There is an axiom that says you will eat whatever is closest to your kitchen door. Put a small garden right there in the ground or in a box. I have a small grow battery and I’ve been eating salads out of a little box on my patio. When we’re eating dinner late, I don’t have to put on a headlamp and go out back. It’s so easy to start small because it won’t be overwhelming. It’s also a great way to avoid some of the common pitfalls of gardening. What makes permaculture such a valuable tool is that it is always a product of specific local observation, followed by a design to create a result or “yield.” Permaculture design always employs a strategy—even the simple idea of placing garden beds or planters close to areas that get a lot of attention, like along our walkways and near the kitchen door. Despite the relative luxury of home garden space on our hillside, I often harvest herbs and greens from my grow batteries just like a condo balcony gardener because they are visible from my kitchen window, and so easy to access when making meals.

What vegetables are you most excited about harvesting from your garden this fall, and what is your favorite way to prepare them?
My partner, Kiki, has been working more traditional crops into our gardens, like beans for drying and corn for making masa. It does simplify harvesting to not have to guess at ripeness because we let these crops fully dry on the vine or stalk before harvest. I haven't really been into dry bean cuisine before, but I really appreciate the noticeable flavor complexities and sweetness of our Cherokee and Black Turtle beans. We will ferment the corn in preparation for creating the masa meal. It is a lot more work than eating fresh corn, but it is a delicious upgrade on most commercial masa and tortillas.

Do you have any seasonal tips for at-home gardeners this fall?
Yes, make your beds! After a long spring/summer season it is easy to cut and run—to just leave/ignore faded mulches and crop stalks. It doesn't take a lot of extra effort to lay on a thick mulch of rough compost, dried grasses, or wood fines. It will protect the organic matter in your topsoil from both the sun and rain. Ideally, all dirt, even in pathways, will be covered under a mulch blanket of at least six inches. By using finer materials that break down more quickly than larger wood chips, it will also add nutrients while the garden bed awaits its next use, whether that’s food, flowers, a cover crop, or left fallow.

Ventura Organic Gardens:, 805. 652.1142

Randy and Robin Graham: The Cook, the Gardener and their October fields

As published in Ojai Quarterly magazine, Fall 2014
Randy and Robin Graham: The Cook, the Gardener and their October fields
Photo by Logan Hall
               Reduced balsamic vinegar is spooned with care so that it tumbles just so over polenta, mozzarella and roasted red bell pepper, puddling decoratively onto a Limoges china plate. The elegant dish is served to hungry patrons waiting at an intimate table for four formally set with a fresh flower arrangement, fancy glassware and folded sage green napkins.
               But this isn't a restaurant. This is Randy and Robin Graham's backyard deck, where they serve gourmet vegetarian meals for select guests – an unlikely pop-up restaurant – and here's the best part; it's free.
               “We do it out of the sheer love of sharing and having fun," says Randy, 63, a local blogger and cookbook author known as the Valley Vegetarian.
               A vegetarian since the '70s, "before it was fashionable," he says with a chuckle, Randy has been cooking since he married Robin 36 years ago, not only out of a curiosity about vegetarian cookery, but somewhat out of necessity.
               "When I met him, I had bread, peanut butter, cereal, eggs and Campbell's soup at home. I couldn’t bake a potato!" Robin, 57, admits.
               The recent retirees (both had professional careers in the public sector) moved from the Bay Area in 2008 into a charming 1,000-square-foot cottage in downtown Ojai. With their only son off to college, they found downsizing to be an easy decision. Randy's best friend since junior high lived here and helped persuade the couple to make the move.
               "We visited them through the years and fell in love with Ojai," Randy says.
               The house was turnkey, but they made one upgrade: a Viking four-burner white enamel range. On Robin's suggestion, Randy ramped up his cooking and started a blog, which then led to him self-publishing three cookbooks since 2012 on vegetarian cooking.
               Early influences in deciding to go vegetarian were mostly prompted by Randy's reckoning with a family history of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
               "It was driven by diet primarily, and to a lesser extent, but equally important, not killing animals," Randy says.
               As a student at UC Berkeley living in a community spurred by the Alice Waters movement, a plant-based diet seemed easy enough in those days, but Randy saw a need to create recipes that wouldn't leave him or those he cooked for (many omnivores, including his wife) wanting more. His signature style has become what he calls, “Consistently good vegetarian comfort food."
               Much of that comfort comes courtesy of their own garden. The modest-sized home came with an equally modest-sized 6,000-square-foot backyard, which is where Robin focused her attention, installing raised planter beds for seasonal produce. The vegetable beds are surrounded by an ornamental garden dotted with hollyhock, ornamental grasses, foxglove, daisies, sunflowers, sweet peas and several other flowering plants. Marigolds and borage in the beds look lovely and help control pests. Fruit and pecan trees give the garden height and shade.
Wood chips with dymondia groundcover planted between large flagstones serve as the garden's foundation.
               "My dad was a gardener, so as soon as I could walk I was out amongst the corn and tomato plants. I was fascinated by the silk on the corn," Robin recalls.
               The garden's focal point is the pale sage green deck covered with flowering wisteria and decorated with succulents and climbing potted blueberries. Artichokes – some left to bloom into striking neon purple flowers – border the deck.
               Creating a garden proved to be the perfect retirement hobby, giving Robin something to grow and Randy something to cook.
               "We only grow what we will eat at home. There’s no sense in growing anything you don’t like," Robin says.
               The hobby quickly grew into a desire to give back to the community, and after becoming a certified master gardener, Robin gave her time to the Ojai Valley of the Moon community garden on the Help of Ojai West Campus. Over a two-year period, the one-acre site donated 1,500 pounds of organic food to the Help of Ojai senior lunch program.
               Back at home, Randy and Robin enjoy a quiet moment on the deck while their dog sniffs in the garden.
               "Willow loves to chew on the lemon grass," Randy says, which is fine with him since he only uses the bulbs.
               Randy says he loves this time of year. "October is my favorite month. It’s the last transition of our garden. It’s the last time I can pick things until mid-winter."
               He rattles off a list of vegetarian casseroles, soups and baked dishes – all perfect for fall. Recipes, he says, that are "good and hearty food that keeps your belly warm."
               Looking ahead, Randy says his next project will be a vegan cookbook, which is where his cooking style and eating are starting to evolve toward. “I probably eat vegan 60 percent of the time without even thinking about it.”
               Not only is a vegan lifestyle more healthy, Randy says, "It’s easy, convenient and good."

Tips from a Vegetarian Cook and a Master Gardener:
      Randy’s best vegetarian dishes for fall:
·               Eggplant Parmesan baked with four cheeses and a homemade sauce,
·               Butternut squash steamed and mashed with brown sugar or just scoop it out with butter and herbs and roast in the oven. “He makes an awesome soup with it, too,” Robin says.
·               Kale ribbons sautéed in olive oil with balsamic vinegar and fresh lemon. “I eat it right out of the pan,” Randy says.
Cook’s Tip: Reduce aged balsamic vinegar by half to get a sweeter, more concentrated flavor and a thicker consistency.
Gardener’s Tip: Chill slices of cucumbers in ice water and plate just before serving for a nice crisp crunch.
Gardener’s Tip: Growing garlic is easy. "When the flower bends, that's when you know to pull it.
Lay it on top of the ground to dry out for a week,” Robin says. Peel and freeze the bulbs, pulling out just what you need.

For the Polenta Napoleon and other vegetarian comfort recipes, or to buy one of Randy's cookbooks, log onto

Food Trucks – Local foodies take their show on the road

As published in Ojai Quarterly magazine, Summer 2014

Food Trucks – Local foodies take their show on the road. 

The author’s husband, in his company’s new food truck.
           On a recent weekend away to Portland, Ore., one of several eating vacations I like to take each year, I was stunned to see so many food trucks – some 700 in all it seems. Balancing a Hawaiian plate lunch of kalua pork and cabbage with sticky rice while listening to buskers strum twangy guitars, I took in a scene of ravenous hordes descending upon dozens of trucks doling out epicurean creations at the famed Saturday Market.
Of course, Ventura County doesn’t have anywhere near 700 food trucks, but with a handful of new trucks on the local scene and food truck festivals popping up around the county each month attracting local trucks as well as trucks from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the mobile eatery craze is definitely taking hold here.
Even my husband Bill has found himself getting swept up in the craze, too, with his employer, Ewing Irrigation, recently debuting their own kitchen on wheels. Upon discovering Bill’s natural culinary talents (you guys might recall that though I’m a food writer, he’s the one who can actually cook), they tapped him recently to beta test their new stoves. He won’t be leaving his day job as their So Cal regional manager anytime soon, but cooking in a commercial-grade kitchen sure fired him up.
Long gone are the greasy roach coach days. It seems everywhere you turn, gourmet mobile kitchens have hungry patrons lining up for a taste, and the novelty isn’t about to wear off. A handful of festivals dotted throughout Ventura county each feature live music and about a dozen gourmet trucks in attendance, with many making the rounds to all of the events. Read on to find out where to satisfy your gourmet food truck cravings:

First Thursdays in Downtown Oxnard:
The longest running recurring food truck event in the 805 (since September 2011) boasts an average attendance of 1633 people at each monthly event. Featured trucks include the Grilled Cheese Truck (which usually has the longest line), Cousins Maine Lobster (don’t miss the lobster macaroni and cheese), White Rabbit’s Filipino Fusion and Oooh La La Crepes. This popular festival takes place the first Thursday of every month from 6-10 p.m. at Plaza Park at 500 South C Street.

Wet (Third) Wednesdays at Marine Emporium Landing:
Set in Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor where they already have a vibrant restaurant scene, Wet Wednesdays boasts the only food truck event in the county at the water’s edge. Featured trucks include Sugar Babies, Border Grill and Me So Hungry (don’t miss the short rib sliders). Occurs the third Wednesday of every month from 5-9 p.m. at Marine Emporium Landing, 3600 S. Harbor Blvd.
Foothill Fest at Poinsettia Pavilion

First Tuesdays at Ventura’s Poinsettia Pavilion:
               Touting the best views in the county, the Foothill Food Truck Fest was created as a fundraiser for the historic Poinsettia Pavilion. Local trucks are the main attraction here and include World Famous Franks, It’s in the Sauce, The Underground Gourmet and Desserts to Die For. Unlike other food truck events, you’ll also find local artisans selling handmade soaps, jams and jewelry, and they’ve got indoor seating and local wine and beer for sale, too. Occurs the first Tuesday of each month from 5-9 p.m. at Poinsettia Pavilion at 3451 Foothill Road.
Third Fridays at Ventura’s Pacific View Mall
Billed as a family-friendly event, this festival in midtown Ventura includes The Cookie Scoop, Slammin’ Sliders and The Greasy Weiner. One of the newest trucks on the scene, Good to Go Juice, features organic local produce turned into freshly-squeezed juices and smoothies. Occurs the third Friday of every month, from 6-10 p.m. at the Pacific View Mall at 3301-1 E Main Street in the parking lot between Main and Telegraph, along Mills Road.

For more on Ojai’s food scene, go to

[SIDE BAR] Scratch Food Truck brings the food truck craze to Ojai
            Last year when the lease expired on his restaurant of 10 years in midtown Ventura, Chef Tim Kilcoyne decided to go mobile. His gourmet food truck features produce and meat from many of the same local farmers and ranchers who he already had relationships with from his Sidecar Restaurant days. The menu includes hand-formed burgers, smoked chicken tacos, coconut grilled chicken burritos and more, all prepared with creativity and sustainability in mind. Pork takes center stage here, though, and no one does pork better than Chef Tim, a classically trained culinary school graduate. He usually buys a whole hog from a small local rancher and finds unexpected ways to prepare it. The house-cured porkstrami with caraway mustard slaw and the smoked pork with peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches are game changers. Don’t miss the hand-cut fries with Kilcoyne’s own homemade ketchup. You can usually catch him at any of the food truck festivals mentioned in this article, but if you don’t want to make the short drive down the hill, you can almost always find him here in Ojai on Sunday mornings next to the farmers’ market. For more about his food and his schedule, visit

Pork: Revelations about the Whole Hog

As published in Ojai Quarterly magazine, Spring 2014

Pork: Revelations about the Whole Hog

Photo and preparation by Bill Snider.
I was in seventh grade when I first learned that eggs fried in bacon fat aren’t just delicious, they’re a transcendent revelation.
I attended seventh grade at a tiny backcountry school in northeast San Diego County. My class was combined with the eighth grade, and my teacher had us all in one small room all day long. In between science, math, P.E. and social studies, Mr. Seeman mixed in a ton of reading and writing. When I went to high school, I was ahead of the curve, having already read most of the classics. I could also write haiku and diagram the heck out of a sentence.
Mr. Seeman was a byproduct of the sixties, and a sort of hippie Renaissance man with an expertise in multiple subjects. After teaching us how to cook garlic chicken, he promised to treat the top students to a camp-out in the desert, complete with a campfire breakfast the next morning. On the menu: eggs fried in bacon fat and toast with boysenberry jam.
Game on, I thought. I dreamed about boysenberry jam and studied my brains out, getting hung up on poetry. I didn’t like rhyming poetry one bit until the day Mr. Seeman handed out copies of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. The prose not only drew me in with its rhythms and beats, but wow, what a story! The next day, he brought in a record player, dropped the needle and played the poem. It turns out that writer Gordon Lightfoot, to my absolute amazement, was a musician! Mind blown.
I earned a seat on Mr. Seeman’s VW bus to the desert. He and his wife bunked in the van, and the 12-year-olds slept under the stars, dazzling each other with our new knowledge of the constellations. The next morning, true to his word, he fried eggs in bacon fat, and soon came the moment I’d been waiting for. He opened the door to the little cupboard where the jam had been stashed in the van, and it fell right onto the floor; shards of glass and purple goo flew everywhere. I’d never known such soul-crushing disappointment.
And that, my friends, is how a food writer with an unreasonable fondness for folk music is born.
These are the stories my husband listens to, and upon hearing them, he satisfies my nostalgic tummy with the perfect meal. The bacon fat makes him think of pork, so he decides a pulled-pork sandwich is in order and slow cooks a pork tri-tip all day in cider vinegar, garlic and brown sugar. He likes his coleslaw on the side, I like mine inside the sandwich.
Pork is the quintessential comfort food – indulgent, flavorful and versatile. The smell-memory of sizzling bacon conjures feel-good emotions followed by strong hunger pangs that must be satiated immediately. In Ojai, we have plenty of places to feed your soul and satisfy your pork cravings.

Feast Bistro
254 E. Ojai Avenue
Chef and owner Susan Coulter is sure to give me a fair amount of ribbing about singing the praises of my husband’s pulled pork sandwich, and I’m not trying to curry favor when I say that hers is damn good. It’s no wonder it’s been awarded Best Sandwich by readers of the local paper several years running. Specializing in New American cuisine, Coulter also features a new pork dish every season that makes my mouth water. Typically, it’s slow cooked until succulent and served up with creamy polenta or mashed potatoes, but she’s also been known to prepare it in a bright and spicy green curry with fresh local vegetables.  

Diaz Bakery
217 East Matilija Street
I know, I know, what’s a bakery doing in the pork run down? Though they are best known for their traditional Mexican pan dulce, fruit-filled empanadas and apple fritters the size of a Wham-O Frisbee, this family-run bakery knows pork, specifically, carnitas, which translates to “little meats.” The pork carnitas are fried and served either on tortillas, or, even better, on a torta with their own homemade bread and the traditional accompaniments of diced white onion and cilantro. Also in the pastry case, paying homage to their most popular dish, are crunchy molasses pig-shaped cookies – delicious dunked in milk or coffee.

Scratch Food Truck
            Fairly new on the foodie scene, this gourmet food truck features produce and meat from local farmers and ranchers. The menu includes hand-formed burgers, smoked chicken tacos, coconut grilled chicken burritos and more, all prepared with creativity and sustainability in mind. Pork takes center stage here, though, and no one does pork better than chef and owner Tim Kilcoyne. He usually buys a whole hog from a small local rancher and finds unexpected ways to prepare it. The house-cured porkstrami with caraway mustard slaw and the smoked pork with peanut butter and strawberry jam are game changers. Don’t miss the hand-cut fries with Kilcoyne’s own homemade ketchup. You can usually catch him here in Ojai on Sundays next to the farmers’ market.

Westridge Market
802 E. Ojai Avenue
What I like best about this independent grocery store with a full-service butcher in the back is that they sell single slices of thick-cut bacon. I’ll buy four slices and render the fat so that I can enjoy my bacon now, and later, when I get a hankering, I can use a teaspoon of the fat to fry eggs or sauté green beans with a little olive oil added.

Rainbow Bridge
211 East Matilija Street
An article about pork in Ojai would not be complete without mentioning ethical sources. Rainbow Bridge is an upscale hippie market that carries pork and other meats that are sustainable, vegetarian-fed and humanely-raised and slaughtered with the strictest handling protocols. Not only that, the meat is extraordinarily tender and flavorful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spin some Gordon Lightfoot and take a big bite out of this pulled pork sandwich.

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