Dining Reviews

Katherine Stern Serves up Fresh, Local Fare at Farmers’ Markets

Stern was chef at La Posta for 10 years, helping put it on the Central Coast dining map

A potential customer checks out the goods at Katherine Stern’s The Midway. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The brilliant cuisine-artist Katherine Stern is back! And she’s doing some outrageous on-site cooking at The Midway, featured at the Westside Farmers’ Market (Saturday, 9am-1pm) and Live Oak Market (Sunday, 9am-1pm). 

You remember the name. Stern was chef at La Posta for 10 years, during which her expertise with Italian-inspired dishes helped put that restaurant firmly on the Central Coast dining map. 

“Since I left La Posta I’ve had a plan for opening a restaurant,” she told me. “After the start of the pandemic, I began to explore other ideas that would still allow me to be creative and involved in the Santa Cruz food community. Hence The Midway with a completely ingredient-driven menu.”

“I love to explore the different stalls at the farmers’ market and see what’s on offer,” she adds. “I’ll then design menus based on what I know is available. After years of solidifying relationships with individual farms, I tend to know what’s on the way or is at its peak.” 

Stern makes a variety of toasts using her own bread. 

“The bread itself has had different flavors and the topping has changed weekly,” she explains. This week’s offering was topped with apple butter, ricotta, shaved fennel and walnuts. “Because we are so new, just finishing our third week, we are still seeing what dishes are popular and what the public responds to.” 

Stern had worked with the farmers’ markets a month into lockdown “creating new systems to keep people feeling safe and comfortable when they come to shop at the market. Because of that experience, opening a stall of my own has been a smooth transition. I was aware of the protocols and also had an insight into customer habits. Having that experience has also strengthened my relationships with the farmers’ market community which has been immensely gratifying.” 

Since opening, Stern’s Midway menu has featured an aromatic lentil salad with fresh herbs, Garden Variety cheese, eggplant and Jimmy Nardello’s peppers, as well as a savory rice bowl infused with turmeric and ginger and topped with crispy pork belly, housemade chili paste and a perfectly fried egg. The market stall also offers pantry-ready preserved items such as hot chili paste, pickles, jams and an intriguingly delicious cardoon-infused honey. My eye snagged on her signature ricotta and Meyer lemon cake! Plus a biscuit, egg and pork belly sandwich with Fiscalini and aioli!

Stern is clearly ahead of the curve. Outdoor cooking and dining will be our go-to comfort arena for the foreseeable future. The Midway honors the farmers’ market as a gathering place, where locally-produced foods are showcased in an outdoor dining room. 

“We can physically distance but collectively enjoy a meal inspired by the bounty that Santa Cruz purveyors have to offer,” says Stern. See you there!

Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain in Place 

Here’s another innovative idea from the Homeless Garden Project for enjoying local foods and culinary pioneers during the time of distancing. A new series of at-home tastings starts on Oct. 24, from 6:30-7:30pm, with a keynote video presentation from organic food and cuisine trailblazer Deborah Madison, who will share some secrets about fresh produce as well as tips for making her favorite salad dressings. 

Guests will be able to visit the farm to harvest salad makings and receive a gift bag containing a bottle of wine and fresh pasta from La Posta restaurant. Interactive gardening and lively viewing on your home screen: very 2020. $95 includes video link, dinner ingredients and gifts for one person. For tickets visit bit.ly/Deborah4HGP.

Pro tip: Check out Apero, a natural wine tasting boutique next to Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing in the Swift Street complex. Fresh attitude and courage during dicey times. Welcome to the Westside!

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. Orly

    October 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    wondering how Chef Stern chose the name for her new business?

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