Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

While it is difficult enough to operate a restaurant, for a few establishments the chefs choose to take additional responsibility for their own actions by way of practicing sustainability. I wanted to see how two local businesses practice Earth Day every day. 

Sustainability comes in many forms. It can be as basic as switching from plastic to reusable straws (or eliminating them altogether). Composting waste is another, more involved method to reduce the amount of waste in landfills. Choosing to buy fruits or vegetables from farmer’s markets in lieu of stores that have products shipped from other states not only supports local growers, but reduces the carbon footprint created from transporting goods. Educating oneself and others in sustainable actions to preserve the environment goes a long way in improving our future.

Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens

Located on the grounds of Roger’s Gardens (a destination for garden and home design) in Corona del Mar, Farmhouse’s mission is to support local artisanal and boutique owners who are conscious of what goes into their products and how they are made. Considered a field-to-fork dining experience, the kitchen also began offering pre-ordered weekly produce boxes plus a curbside market of chicken and vegetable stocks, pickled vegetables and baked goods.

Executive chef and owner Rich Mead brought the Farmhouse concept to fruition in 2016, planning the menu as well as being involved in areas such as design and front-of-house operations. His background in restaurants spans decades with previous ventures that included local favorites Sage in Newport Beach, Sage on the Coast along PCH in Newport Coast and Canyon Restaurant in Anaheim Hills. 

What is The Ecology Center?

Functioning as a working farm, produce stand and educational hub in San Juan Capistrano, The Ecology Center has been an outdoor community classroom for the past decade. It strives to set an example for future organic farms across the country. Bridging the gap between food and agriculture, the center welcomes volunteers and holds events throughout the year, connecting like-minded individuals through mentorship and learning more about ecology over a shared meal.

However, it is Mead’s relationships with growers and ranchers that he is best known for. His commitment to featuring local grains, proteins and vegetables of the highest quality translates into donating his time toward nonprofits like San Juan Capistrano’s The Ecology Center, where he is a founding chef of its annual Green Feast fundraiser. Recently, I crossed paths with Mead at Community Table, a series of dinners with different guest chefs designing a meal around The Ecology Center’s four seasonal rotations: cover crops, berries, milpa (a farming method involving the planting of multiple, diverse crops in a single field) and market garden.

Throughout Farmhouse’s selections, ingredients are sustainably sourced from local family purveyors and farms. According to Mead, “By using only ingredients that are in season locally and buying directly from the growers, the restaurant is able to minimize the impact on the environment with less packaging used and reduced greenhouse gas emissions since the food has fewer miles to travel.” 

He also believes in producing minimal food waste, using as much of an ingredient as possible. One example of this is found in a roasted carrot and burrata cheese dish; its leafy carrot tops are repurposed in a pistou sauce. Chef Mead also uses liver (the part of a chicken many restaurants would normally throw out) in his chicken liver pâté. 

More ways in which Farmhouse practices sustainability include takeaway containers and utensils that are eco-friendly; its straws are sourced from bamboo. Just beyond the restaurant’s entrance, fennel and herbs are grown on-site, which are used to flavor cocktails and entrees.

In honor of Earth Day, Farmhouse will donate 50% of sales of its spaghetti squash and braised green enchilada entree today to the Environmental Nature Center (ENC), a five-acre landscape for learning by way of nature camps, professional development, scout programs and other opportunities while maintaining a strict zero waste policy. The composed dish combines produce from a number of local growers including Milliken Family Farm Brussels sprouts, blue corn tortillas produced by Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project, Schaner Family Farms spaghetti squash and Weiser Family Farms carrots. 

Oceans and Earth

In Yorba Linda, Barbie Wheatley and Adam Navidi’s Oceans and Earth is named to highlight the relationship between restaurant and nature. This is accomplished via specialized farming techniques, research and education. “As a farmer, I’m reminded every day how nature teaches us patience and perseverance,” Navidi said. Oceans and Earth’s extensive menu serves steaks, flatbreads, tacos, salads and burgers. Extra care goes into preparing items such as gluten-free, house-made brioche buns baked to order. 

Chef Navidi grew up in Orange County with a talent for gardening at a young age. By age 15, he enrolled in cooking courses at North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (ROP). He moved to Vail, Colorado, at the age of 17 to gain real world experience. Yet it was during his apprenticeship at Broken Top Country Club in Bend, Oregon, four years later that Navidi realized his preference for upscale cuisine. 

He moved to Seattle to attend culinary school. Water’s Edge, along Lake Washington, hired him as kitchen manager after his studies were completed. Navidi would spend his mornings at Pike’s Place Market procuring just-caught seafood and the freshest produce. Education and movement in his career would contribute to another stint in Bend until he was homesick, bringing him back to do Orange County catering for three years before relocating to Napa where he continued learning at the Culinary Institute of America.

Vertical lettuce crops at Future Food Farms. Credit: Photo courtesy Oceans & Earth Restaurant

Armed with newfound inspiration, he returned home a second time to run his own catering group while balancing duties at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. Hyatt would be his last corporate setting before deciding to focus on building a restaurant to call his own.

Agricultural zoning regulations would prevent Navidi from being able to achieve his dream of building a modern, urban farm behind his commercial restaurant, allowing him to grow crops and cook on the same property. The loophole he figured out was to instead conduct dinners on a 25-acre site that would be Future Foods Farms in Brea. His advanced farming method is known as aquaponics, a soilless growing system by raising fish (in Navidi’s case, tilapia) and using the nutrient-rich water in the tanks to fertilize greens, vegetables, fruits and herbs for sale and use in his restaurant; Oceans and Earth would ultimately open in 2014.

I interviewed Navidi back in 2017, but ran into him at Table for 10, an annual gala benefiting the Pascal Olhats Culinary Arts Scholarship where proceeds went toward setting up funding for students at both Saddleback Culinary Arts College and Orange Coast Culinary Arts School. Each participating chef envisioned and executed a memorable feast for their assigned table (complete with creative tablescapes and interactive components), assisted by students from both schools.

Besides his accomplishments with Future Foods Farms, another sustainable practice by chef Navidi is repurposing items from his restaurant – he recently sanded and refinished a table crafted out of old wooden cutting boards. Note: The Brea location recently closed, although much of it relocated to Lake Elsinore, while other components are maintained in Navidi’s personal greenhouse and 1,000 gallon backyard aquaponic system. 

Navidi is also consulting for Orange Coast College on its aquaponic greenhouse. “For my company, it’s not just about growing food for my restaurant. It’s about teaching others and making farming cool again with innovative technology,” he said. He has partnerships with multiple colleges including Cal State Fullerton to train students in sustainable agriculture. 

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.


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