Dining Reviews

Local Chefs Make Meals for First Responders, Fire Evacuees

Local chefs, growers, and restaurants pooled their resources for massive effort

Katy Oursler of Mutari Chocolate and Santos Majano of The Kitchen at Discretion select vegetables to create nutritious meals for firefighters and fire evacuees. PHOTO: Justine Grajski

When the going gets tough, the tough start cooking. And that’s exactly what happened the day after the CZU Lightning Complex fire started raging through the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

Local chefs, growers, and restaurants began pooling their resources with one major goal in mind: feeding the first responders. It quickly widened into a push to provide meals for those displaced by the fires. Thanks to the remarkable nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen, started in 2010 by chef and activist José Andrés, Santa Cruz had scores of culinary boots on the ground almost as soon as evacuees began pouring out of the mountains and into various shelters, hotel rooms, and homes opened by friends. 

Many hands helped to gather the local resources needed to produce hundreds of meals each day: Bret and Elan Emerson of Barceloneta, whose large restaurant kitchen was one of the main sites of cooking and preparing; Kendra Baker, who plated hundreds of lunches from the Picnic Basket and Snap Taco, as well as providing Penny Ice Creamery ice cream to evacuees; Jean Paul Lechtenberg of Hollins House, who came to bake bread. Pacific Cookie Company’s Cara Pearson donated countless cookies to evacuees in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Patrice Boyle and her team cooked free takeaway meals for evacuees, as well as cooking in the Mutari Chocolate kitchen for firefighters. 

One of the key coordinators of all this cooking was Katy Oursler of Mutari. Drawing on her many years as coordinator of the Outstanding In the Field series of farm-to-table dinners, Oursler knew exactly who to call on for needed produce and supplies, and who then could be mobilized to take, for example, someone’s oversized tomato crop and turn it into chili,tacos, or stew. 

“World Central Kitchen sent in a crew, as they always do, to where there was a sudden crisis and hence sudden need for food production and distribution,” Oursler said. 

Jumping in early was Andrea Mollenauer of the Food Lounge who helped gather unclaimed Live Earth Farm CSA boxes to donate to evacuees, as well as the contents of the Happy Valley Conference Center’s commercial freezer for meal preparation. Oursler and Mollenauer began working with World Central Kitchen at the Mutari kitchen until the meal count increased. Then the cooking center moved to the larger kitchen of Barceloneta. 

“Chef friends and farmers started reaching out, wanting to help feed folks,” Oursler told me. Mentone, Kickin Chicken, The Kitchen at Discretion—the list of cooks grew and grew. Using experience that includes managing Ristorante Avanti in “the old days,” Oursler organized the food chain from source, to preparation, to distribution via the World Central Kitchen volunteers. 

“If the produce and food contributed are not used by chefs while it is fresh,” Oursler explained, “we are canning and pickling what we can to feed folks in the weeks ahead.” Last week the canning line at Mutari included Catherine Faris of Pascarosa Olive Oils, and produce from the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Markets, Everett, Live Earth, Homeless Garden Project, Spade and Plow, Happy Boy Farms, Groundswell Farm, and Wild Roots Market.

A lot of displaced Santa Cruzans as well as visiting emergency responders had meals to eat thanks to this generous effort. Kudos!

Pro Tips

From Hollister’s Swank Farms comes organic produce that finds its way onto some of our best menus, like those of Home restaurant in Soquel and Sanderlings Restaurant in the gorgeous beachfront south of our county. Swank’s tomatoes adorn the quarter pound burger at Sanderlings resort, along with cheddar cheese and all the trimmings. Fried potatoes or salad? Yes, all for $17.

Speaking of burgers, there’s one that has my full attention, and that’s the spicy salmon burger over at Johnny’s Harborside. For a mere $14 you can have your spiced salmon on a brioche bun with little gem lettuce, heirloom tomato, mango coulis and dill pickle aioli. It comes with either chips or Caesar salad. The view of the harbor and bay is part of the charm.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Janice S Bartolotta

    September 9, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Is there a central org to donate to assist in their good works?

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