In Robert Lower’s tropical desert oasis, things are allowed to get a little wild. The straight lines of towering date trees are blurred by bright globes of pomegranates and grapefruit, edible greens and delicate branches gathered underneath their canopy. Robert tends to the soil by encouraging this type of biodiversity, rather than trying to control it. His permaculture approach to growing his Barhi, Medjool, Dayri, Zahidi and Deglet Noor dates seems to work quite well – the palms are heavy with clusters of dates every time we set the table, and the bright flavors of his citrus always inspire our guest chefs. Gabriel Woo, Executive Chef at Bar Cecil, will be taking a break from opening his newest project at the Palm Springs Art Museum to join us in the field kitchen for another spectacular meal.
Nestled up against Hollywood’s Runyon canyon is the historic hillside estate of Gordon Wattles. What were once the garden grounds of the property have been transformed into a vibrant community-run garden filled with volunteer-tended plots of flowers and produce, as well as century-old citrus and avocado trees. The inscription above the iron gate still reads, “Someone loves this garden and has lent it to you. Please respect this kindness and leave it as beautiful as you find it.” We are so grateful to our host, Toby Leaman, for lending us this magical space for the afternoon so that we can share its beauty with you, and with our guest chef, Nico de Leon. Nico brought his acclaimed Filipino flair to a collaborative dinner celebrating LA’s best chefs this past summer, but this will be his first time flying solo in the field kitchen. We cannot wait to see what he comes up with when he has five full courses to play with.
Reiana Onglengco and Evan Graham Arango started Ojai Roots in the backyard of their family property in Ojai. The farm, focused on soil biology and diverse, dense plantings, has steadily grown into a favorite of local chefs and Ojai residents for their stunning array of produce and regenerative practices. In the past few years, they’re added a farm box delivery service, chickens, a small herd of cattle, estate-grown olive oil, wine and a new 100 acre property, The Ranch. We will set the table overlooking The Ranch’s greenhouses and terraced gardens for a celebratory meal crafted by fellow Ojai locals, brothers Blake and Derek Ulrich, and the team from Model Citizen. They pair the freshest of the season with skillfully preserved ingredients for their lauded spin on coastal California cuisine.
We’ve been eager to visit this incredible place ever since we saw The Biggest Little Farm, an inspiring documentary that chronicles John and Molly Chester’s journey to become farmers dedicated to the health of the soil and everything that grows from that. From the air, the farm looks like a Jim Denevan art installation, with spiraling orchards and radiating patches of linear row crops. Spanning 234 acres just 40 miles from Los Angeles, the farm is a wonderland of fecundity where John and Molly use certified organic, biodynamic and regenerative agricultural methods to grow more than 160 varieties of vegetables, 75 varieties of fruits, and raise sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and ducks with care and respect. If you’ve seen the film, you know a bit about the labor and love and many rounds of trial and error it took to reclaim this once-barren land and create the dynamic ecosystem it is today. John and Molly will tell us what they’ve learned and put into practice here since they first embarked upon the project in 2011. Sisters Rory and Maeve’s popular new spot, Rory’s Place, in Ojai is the organic culmination of growing up in their mom’s Santa Monica bakery, Maeve’s stints running the kitchen at Gjelina in Venice and Saltwater in Inverness, and Rory’s warm front-of-house hospitality and wine knowledge. Together, the sibs and their team will glean the farm’s vast pantry and bring their wood-fired cookery out to the field to create a meal to remember.
The mother and son team of Jehanne and Nick Brown host us for another night in their beautiful orchards, a Mediterranean paradise on California’s Central Coast. Nick grew up on the ranch and spent his teen years manning the family’s table at the local farmers market. Now, in addition to overseeing the orchards, he helms Rincon Tropics, which delivers California sunshine in the form of fresh fruit straight to customers’ homes across the U.S. and to Michelin-starred restaurants up and down the Central Coast and SoCal. Nick will teach us about finger lime “caviar”; how to eat a creamy cherimoya; and what to do with passion fruit pulp. Where will we set the table? Perhaps under citrus trees with bright fruit glowing like string lights in the boughs above. Maybe between rows of guava, dragon fruit or pomegranate. Before we enter the bower for dinner, we’ll feast on coastal views of the sparkling Pacific and the distant dark bumps across the waves that are the Channel Islands. This is a very special place, and our guest chef will honor it with a meal to celebrate its natural grandeur. Inspired by the area’s abundant produce and coastal vibes, Chef Josh Pressman turns out small plates and delish pizzas from the wood-fired oven at Bettina. Josh came out to Rancho el Rincon with us last year, and we’re stoked to have him back again!
OITF visited Rancho el Rincon, just south of Santa Barbara, for the first time last year, and we knew we’d be back. The view of the sparkling Pacific was stunning, and we set the table under trees burgeoning with ripe citrus. Host Jehanne Brown raised her son Nick here. A sixth-generation Carpinteria farmer with a deep love for this land, Farmer Nick tends acres of pesticide-free tropical fruit trees—citrus, guava, avocado, pomegranate, passion fruit, cherimoya. Rancho el Rincon is all about small-scale, labor-intensive farming that delivers hand-picked fruit at the peak of freshness and flavor with minimal intervention. Nick will walk us around and tell us how he does it all. Then The Dutchess team will take over. Opened just last year, The Dutchess took Ojai by storm with Kelsey Brito’s luscious pastries and Chef Saw Naing’s fabulous Burmese-Indian cuisine. Using the harvest from our friends at Tehachapi Heritage Grain and produce from 50/50 Farm—established a few years ago when The Dutchess owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, who still operate the famed Rustic Canyon and other L.A. faves, moved out to Ojai to start farming—The Dutchess exemplifies the locavore ethic, interpreted through a Burmese-Indian lens. Think tea leaf salad, braised beef masala, tandoori-style chicken and kabocha squash curry.
Farmer Robert Lower’s date garden is a magical place. Robert dreamed this place up in 1979, then set about to literally create it from scratch, interplanting rows of date palms and citrus in the desert of the Coachella Valley. Today, this oasis of softly rustling palm fronds and fragrant citrus blossoms is a beautiful setting for our long table. And Farmer Robert definitely knows how to have a good time; he’s been a regular at our Coachella Music Festival appearances for years. Chef Brian Redzikowski of Kettner Exchange will join us in the desert kitchen; this is his eleventh time as an Outstanding guest chef. Together, farmer and chef will make magic happen in the garden.
Prepare to be wowed by this haven of tropical fruits including guavas, passion fruit, avocados, cherimoya, dragonfruit, pomegranate, and citrus. Not to mention sweeping views of the Pacific, the Channel Islands, and the California coast. Host Jehanne Brown has curated a Mediterranean and tropical paradise highlighting the natural topography, various microclimates, and soil types to grow and showcase the best specialty fruits that this historic property has to offer. Her son Nick Brown, a sixth-generation farmer in the Carpinteria Valley, grew up on this ranch where he learned the ropes of farming fruit naturally with no pesticides or sprays. The Browns use a variety of regenerative techniques including cover crops, beneficial insects, and interplanted fields to produce some seriously stunning fruits that happen to be well-loved by some of the best chefs in Southern California, and beyond. Guest chef Jessica Largey has quite the culinary accolades under her belt, including a James Beard Award and a tenure as Chef de Cuisine at three-Michelin-star Manresa in Los Gatos. So the meal is bound to wow us, too.
From our table on the iconic Malibu Pier, you’ll get to enjoy the meditative sound of ebbing waves below your feet as you dine on the day’s fresh catch. Plus a panoramic view of the sparkling Pacific, soaring seabirds and Malibu’s majestic rolling hills. Our guest chef will helm the pier kitchen for a meal that celebrates both land and sea, and feature the bounty of fresh fish and seafood available, plus plenty of peak season produce from the plethora of area farms.