Farm to Table: Whisknladle
There are many reasons why a growing number of people are getting back to their roots, at least when it comes to their food. In San Diego County, California, a small chain of restaurants that grow their own organic soil-based produce are helping people do just that, and local customers are literally eating it up.
Gabriel Mauser has his hands (and ladles) full most of the time as produce and beverage manager for five restaurants that the Whisknladle Hospitality Company owns and operates in preferred areas of San Diego County, CA.
Each one has its own style, vibe and flare to provide a unique experience for its customers, though critically-acclaimed Whisknladle, opened in 2008, was the first to open.
Prepkitchen, located in La Jolla, is the second addition to the Whisknladle Group and was shortly followed by the same ideas in Prepkitchen Del Mar, Prepkitchen Little Italy, and downtown San Diego. Catania, also located also in La Jolla, is “a tribute to authentic coastal Italian cuisine,” says Mauser.
Located on the top floor of the newly redesigned La Plaza center on the historic corner of Wall and Girard in La Jolla, Catania is the result of the vision of Whisknladle Hospitality owner Arturo Kassel and culinary partner and director Ryan Johnson, who were inspired by a two-week, 1,400-mile road trip through Italy years ago.
The restaurant provides guests with authentic Italian coastal cuisine in a relaxed, yet elevated setting featuring panoramic ocean views. All locations feature the same concepts and ideas of freshly prepared food at affordable prices. They also feature a great management team and a local organic farm that provides up to 16 per cent of each restaurant’s daily produce, fruits and wines.
The company’s organic farm, Milagro Farm and Winery, is located in Ramona, no more than 60 minutes away from each restaurant, and employs only organic growing methods such as crop rotations, mulching, and soil enrichment programs throughout their entire farm and vineyard.
Not only does Milagro supply Whisknladle with produce and local wines, it is also a business partner. Mauser is the farm manager who oversees day-to-day operations. He points out that customers are more than welcome to visit the farm to see how things are done. So I did, eager to see firsthand this idea of farm to table.
The first thing I noticed was just how small of an area the farm occupies. Supplying so much produce, fruit, and wines on a daily basis, I expected a sprawling complex full of modern equipment.
Instead, there are gardens of all types plotted here and there to take advantage of the proper sunlight value for each crop, as well as large rows of planted crops, small growing beds, greenhouses, and shade cloth covered areas for herbs and smaller plants. I walked through rows of grapes, protected from birds, covering one portion of a windswept rise. The evidence of an educated and experienced cultivator is seen in every single aspect of this tiny farm.
To the outside of the shade cloth protected area are fruit trees that line the property in scattered rows; one here, one there, forming a small fruit bearing forest of peaches, apples and other fruits. Some of the trees have been here for some time while others are smaller, just waiting to bear fruit. Drip lines run throughout this area and there are mounds of mulch and compost piled up around the forest.
Even though everything Milagro does is organic, it is not currently certified as organic, which Mauser says puts them in a difficult position because some people want to see that certification displayed. To me, though, the expertise used and the resulting quality are obvious.
The time and effort that goes into this endeavor cannot be overlooked. Each plot is carefully maintained with a common sense approach to gardening such as netting, green house enclosures, straw beds, and other pest control practices. They do not use chemicals or pesticides and cut no corners when it comes to obtaining the best produce around. This farm is truly organic soil based and the results show it.
All five restaurants prepare fresh meals every single day, very little is prepared in advance. The menus show a very artistic approach common in this well-to-do area of pricey homes. The meals are filling and flavorful and prepared by some of the best chefs in the area. Menu items change with the season, allowing for the freshest ingredients to be used.
The Whisknladle chain of restaurants is one of a few in this area that grow their own produce, fruits, and grapes. The company recognized a demand for farm-to-table produce and developed a system that works. The hard work, expertise, and dedication that go into each and every dish are something that you just have to see and taste for a truly organic experience.