Always a sweet and memorable event, the Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper last week blew away expectations. Food cooked outdoors—the smell of the oak-fired oven was heavenly—and enjoyed at long tables filled with friends, supporters, eco-politicians (John Laird, Jimmy Panetta, Dept. of California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross), few events of the summer do more to capture all that’s best about our region. It was fun to see old friends, including former mayor Katherine Beiers (along with her daughter and son-in-law visiting from Portland), and HGP board member Mark Lipson (Molino Creek Farm founder).
I was also there to savor the Project’s atmospheric gardens, Burrell School wines (the 2007 Chardonnay showed beautifully), and multiple courses made by Monterey Bay area chefs, who, along with a team of serving professionals, all donated their time and skill to this splendid meal.
Wine and passed appetizers made by Gema Cruz, chef at Gabriella Cafe, started us off. I especially loved her soft focaccia squares topped with slabs of mozzarella, Early Girl tomatoes and a slick of basil pesto. I ate two of them as I joined the tour given by HGP’s executive director Darrie Ganzhorn. Almost everybody checked out the site-constructed oven where Brad Briske (La Balena) and his team tended oak logs. The coals then roasted dozens and dozens of whole snapper that had been brined with garlic, rosemary and jalapeños and stuffed with yet more herbs. The aroma was incredible, and the process—cooking the ancient way—was mesmerizing.
At our table, Beiers regaled me with tales of completing her 10th Boston marathon this year, as she dug into the arugula salad made by Earthbound Farm’s Sarah LaCasse. The salad seemed to glow in the slanting sunlight. Spiraling strands of fried zucchini and pickled cucumbers added summery flavors to the greens, dreamy with a cilantro-mint vinaigrette. Next came a salad of roasted summer vegetables and orzo loaded with Peruvian mayocoba beans and fennel. Briske’s fantastic side dish set up our palates for platters of crisp whole snapper that soon arrived. Who knew that world hiker/realtor Woutje Swets could apply such remarkable dexterity when it came to removing the head and spine of the plump snapper? We ate, drank, watched the fog keep its distance, and heard inspiring remarks about California agriculture and the increasing success of the HGP program itself.
Just when the three-hour event couldn’t get any better, out came the brilliant dessert made by Yulanda Santos. The Aubergine chef had made an intense panna cotta-type cream spiked with chamomile and topped with roasted strawberries, flash-fried licorice mint and a dusting of pistachios. I can barely remember anything tasting this good. It was a dazzling performance by the quartet of chefs and their supporting crews.
There is arguably no better way to watch a summer afternoon turn to evening than sitting in this garden, where the fog—right on cue—finally arrived at the same time as the coffee! Hearing the eloquent closing remarks by the successful HGP trainee Kathleen Groves made me realize that this annual event belongs on everyone’s calendar. You can support this growing project in so many ways, but the summer Sustain Supper has got to be the most delicious. homelessgardenproject.org.
The sun-splashed California Beer Festival unfurls at Aptos Village Park this weekend, Aug. 12-14, showcasing the craft beer movement with scores of varieties to taste and test, beer-friendly foods, and live music. Wide range of tickets, including a three-day VIP pass for $99. Go to californiabeerfestival.com.