We are a couple living in heaven: both trained chefs who love to grow fresh produce, love animals and could not have dreamt of a better life than what we have right now.
Jeff was raised in a small town in the central valley of California, the son of a second generation farmer. One of his first memories is walking out the back door and into the fields where he would pick and eat fresh green beans. His grandfather and father raised everything from walnuts to shelling beans to spinach to summer squash. Jeff became interested in cooking while in elementary school, and at 13 he had a subscription to Bon Appetit cooking magazine, was fixing Thanksgiving dinner for the family and received his prized Kitchen Aid mixer as a Christmas present. When he was 14, he began his first job in a restaurant as a bus boy at Anderson’s Pea Soup restaurant in Santa Nella. Jeff went on to graduate from University of San Francisco’s renowned Business School for Hospitality Management.
Once Jeff graduated from USF, off he went to beautiful upstate New York to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. For his externship, he moved to Windsor, California and worked at Jeremiah Tower’s Stars Café in Oakville.
Jeff worked at top name restaurants gleaning what he could out of each experience, all the while building his culinary repertoire. He moved to Healdsburg in 1997 to be the opening chef of the Healdsburg Oakville Grocery. Jeff left Oakville Grocery in late 1998 to open Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar with childhood friend, Scott Silva.
This is where Susan and Jeff’s worlds collide. Susan was hired by Oakville Grocery to replace Jeff. Who knew?!!!
Growing up in San Diego, Susan didn't live on or near a farm, but had a mother who loved to grow tomatoes and flowers. She started cooking at 4 years old, so that her Dad could sleep in on Sunday mornings. He thought that if he taught Susan how to cook pancakes, she wouldn’t get him up too early. So for the next few years, every Sunday morning Susan would get up early, go next door to the neighbor’s house and fix them pancakes while they got ready for early church services, and then come home and make pancakes for her family!
Susan's Mom was the great home cook, learning to cook from her mom. By the time Susan came along, the family traditions were honed and passed on. She learned how to make tasty dishes from what was in the house, just like her Mom could make soup out of anything. Susan entered cake baking contests in elementary school and won several ribbons, in addition to taking charge of several bake sales for the German Club and for church. At the time, she never considered cooking as a career, but planned to go into nursing or psychology.
Finally, after a couple of years at junior college, Susan realized she just wanted to cook. She attended California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and went on to work at some pretty great places in San Francisco. In LA, she worked for a combination of restaurants and catering companies, and found that she enjoyed the pace of catering much more than that of restaurants.
In 1998 Susan moved to Healdsburg to be the replacement chef for “a guy that was opening a restaurant.” On meeting Jeff, her first words were, “I hear you want to open a restaurant. Are you crazy or what?"
Nine months after living in town, Jeff and Susan started dating and have been together ever since.
Turn your clocks to about six years ago now, when a former employee of Jeff’s offered him the use of land to grow some veggies for the restaurant. Jeff was shown the weed choked, rock hard garden at 4 pm on Tuesday afternoon. By 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon, he had weeded, roto-tilled, amended the soil, created rows, laid an irrigation system AND planted the entire garden. Whew!!!
Jeff has learned, year by year, with the kind guidance of other local farmers, what to do to grow fabulous vegetables. We have the “mad scientist laboratory” aka the basement garage where Jeff starts tomatoes (some tomato seeds are saved from the year before), peppers, squash and other veggies. This year we have over 250 tomato plants and 35 varieties. Some have names like Black Cherry, Beef heart, Red Lightening and Green Zebra.
Two years ago we inherited a flock of chickens. We started off with 13: 3 roosters and 10 hens. Most of the hens were bantam chickens (mini hens) and we had a few large girls. Susan was finally in her element. Fast forward a bit and there are now 45 chickens: 3 roosters and 42 hens!
We are selling eggs and produce at the Farmers’ Market in Windsor on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, at the Farmers’ Market in Healdsburg on Tuesday nights, at several markets and to local restaurants. What are we growing right now?
Santa Rosa Plums
5 varieties of Peach, including White Peaches and Indian Summer Peaches
5 varieties of figs
4 citrus trees: Meyer Lemon, Satsuma Mandarin, Naval Orange and Lime
550 tomato plants; 35 varieties
3-70 foot rows of summer squash; 9 kinds
400 pepper plants – 6 varieties
1-70 foot row of Okra
180 Eggplant – 5 kinds
1-70 foot row of cucumbers: Kirby pickling, Great Northern and Armenian
An acre of white and yellow Corn
Jacob’s Cattle Beans
3 different kinds of winter squash
Over 400 baby pumpkin plants
We're also experimenting with Arugula, mixed lettuces and raddichio. In addition to growing and selling all of this produce, we also love canning as much as we can. Last June we canned over 9 cases of Santa Rosa Plum Jam. It tastes like summer and is the color of a sunset.
Thanks for stopping by and reading what we're up to!
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