As Chef Rebecca Stewart learned of her 2010 Local Hero award in the Chef/Restaurant category, the sixth anniversary of her restaurant and the eleventh in her series of cooking classes were drawing nigh.
Both were on her mind. The restaurant had just switched over to the early spring salad: spring mix, arugula, Bloomsdale spinach (an heirloom variety Stewart was bragging on), fennel strips, strawberries, a bit of feta, micro herbs on top (a spicy mix, she noted), served with a toasted almond vinaigrette. The first in Stewart’s spring/summer cooking class series was scheduled for the following week. “Teaching the classes,” Chef Stewart revealed, “really pushes me. I research, I write recipes. I love to inspire people for different flavors.” Her students may have never heard of hoisin sauce, but then she’ll bump into them at the Asian Market on Nord, buying ingredients she used in class. “I love to see them make food the center of their lives.” The cooking class series offers plenty to choose from, Italian, South American, Greek, New Orleans, Vegetarian, Fish. All feature spicy: “Spice Creek is spices, herbs, flavor,” says Stewart.
Serving such flavorful food challenges the wine list. Her husband, Brian Diendorf finds the wines to complement such flavors. In managing the wine list, “he’s wonderful,” Chef Stewart brags. “He reads and reads and reads. He’s put himself into it. It isn’t easy choosing wines that go well with the food we serve,” since a table of four diners is likely to choose steak, fish, a vegetarian entrée, all presenting, in entrée and sides, Spice Creek’s distinctive flavors.
Take restaurant or take classes. Spice Creek Café patrons do. “I’ll see them in class on Tuesday, and they’re in the restaurant for dinner on Friday,” says Rebecca Stewart. It’s just the truth.
Spice Creek Café, 230 West 3rd Street Chico: 530.891.9951
Food Artisan Category
When Deneane Ashcraft, cheese maker at North Valley Farms heard that Edible Shasta-Butte readers had voted her a 2010 Local Hero in the Food Artisan category, she couldn’t help her outburst: “These are our customers,” she exuded. “How exciting is that!”
Deneane and Mark Ashcraft sell North Valley Farms goat cheeses at the Chico and Redding Saturday Farmers’ Markets, so they know their customers, and they particularly value the questions these customers ask. Where does the milk come from? Who milks? What happens to the kids born each year to freshen the goats’ milk? What do the goats eat? How do you make the cheese?
The Ashcrafts’ answers emphasize that theirs is truly a farmstead cheese: all the milk to make the cheese comes from their own goats pastured right at their farm. Their farming practices have won them the prestigious Animal Welfare Approved designation, certifying the humane treatment the Ashcrafts give the goats. The Ashcrafts pledge a single-source, field to fork product. No goat milk curd imported from China or Canada in this cheese.
The Ashcrafts have committed to keeping their herd small, their goats, milk, and cheese hand-tended. Still, Deneane keeps experimenting with cheese-making. In addition to their signature North Valley Farms Chèvre, she now produces a goat milk feta, available plain or marinated in the Isern family’s certified organic olive oil, and two aged raw goat milk cheeses, a Colby and a denser variety known as Tome. Cheeses, Deneane is learning, “have a life of their own.” Some of her aging cheeses picked up a wild blue mold that lives in her cheese parlor, and when she sent a wedge to Vermont cheese-making guru Peter Dixon, he found it so tasty that he recommended she inoculate more cheese with the mold.
Certainly, Deneane will encourage such life to her cheeses. But the Ashcrafts have no plans to go off farm for goats or milk, no plans to expand their herd. Very local, they will keep doing what they’re doing, heroically.
Llano Seco Rancho’s 14,500 acres is entirely protected under agriculture and conservation easements through the Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Northern California Regional Land Trust. On 4500 acres, the farm raises nuts, row crops, and vines for seeds. Then there’s the livestock, grassfed beef and hogs. It’s Llano Seco’s pork products that are sold locally at Chico’s Saturday Farmers’ Market, Chico Natural Foods, and in Holiday markets.
David Sieperda has managed the ranch since 2003, but his family has been farming for three generations. Dave fully embraced organic farming when he came to Chico in 2003 to manage the ranch. Llano Seco was a perfect fit for organic farming. The easements allow the focus of land use to be on grazing.
Aside from taking the time to run about a dozen marathons, managing Llano Seco Rancho has been David Sieperda’s life in Chico. His family—wife Karen and children Jessica (age 12) and Jeremy (10)—live with him on the ranch, where eight other workers’ families live, one of whom for thirty-three years. And this year, the readers of Edible Shasta-Butte magazine voted David Sieperda the Local Hero in the category of Farmer.
Beverage Artisan Category
When Aimée Sunseri, winemaker at New Clairvaux Vineyards, saw her framed 2010 Local Hero Award and the camera poised for a photo-op, she grabbed her dad’s arm. Aimée and her dad, Phil Sunseri, represent fourth and fifth generation California winemakers, whose family started Nichelini Winery, now the oldest family-owned winery in the Napa Valley. Since 2000, Aimée has worked with the Cistercian monks at the vineyards of the Abbey of New Clairvaux, in Vina, and makes the wine the Abbey sells to the public.
That weekend, New Clairvaux had just released its 2009 Viognier. Aimée was delighted with a new characteristic that had appeared in New Clairvaux’s Viognier. Good Viogniers develop an oily texture to carry their flavors of apricot and peach, and this year’s vintage had developed that texture. “I didn’t really do anything different,” Aimee admitted. “I think the vines are old enough to create that texture in the grape juice.”
New Clairvaux hosts release parties (see website below), and very likely, Aimée will be giving tours of the barrel room, during which visitors will note the attention to detail, the sensitivity to taste, and the commitment to quality that have earned Aimée the 2010 Local Hero in the Beverage Artisan category.
Non-Profit Organization Category
2010 Local Hero in the Non-Profit Organization category, Chico’s Torres Shelter is a way-station for Chico’s homeless. This stop represents another phase of a long, difficult journey when a guest family has lost their house then their rental, then lived in hotels and, finally, with parents or friends. The average stay of a shelter guest increased from thirty-one days in 2008 to forty-two days in 2009, and the shelter now averages sixty-one guests each night.
Brad Montgomery, the Shelter’s Executive Director, pointed to the month’s meal schedule and explained that local churches and individuals prepare the shelter’s nightly dinners, typically what they prepare and eat in their own homes. “There is no shortage of food, enough for seconds and thirds. But we draw the line at fourths,” Brad smiled. The Torres Shelter has no kitchen available for food preparation or storage, nor is there a dining room. Guests eat walking around or sitting outside (weather permitting), at their dorm beds, or in their family’s room. Out back on a large piece of land, students in the CSU Chico Construction Management program, who have already remodeled the interior of the shelter, plan to build more rooms, expand parking, and put in a garden.
To learn more and to donate, visit chicoshelter.org/get-involved/donate
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Edible Shasta-Butte is the guide to local food, dining, and gardening in Northern California’s central valley from Butte County north to the Oregon border.