Irvine dentist turns tomato supplier to Zinc Cafe in Laguna, Corona del Mar

When it comes to heirloom tomatoes, Zinc Cafe & Market is not ordering the prized summer jewels from mega food distributors.

Instead, the business, where fruits and vegetables play a starring role, is reaping Tom Baba's harvest.

Baba, a dentist in Laguna Beach, grows tomatoes on an 8-acre farm in Fallbrook and delivers them to Zinc's Ocean Avenue location. Bigger yields are also shared with Zinc's Corona del Mar site on Coast Highway.

Green zebra and indigo rose are among the varieties that will star in dishes such as the heirloom dinner salad, which includes avocado, olives, feta cheese and micro greens drizzled with basil oil and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and fresh basil.

Rosemarie Secretan, Zinc's recipe developer and the mother of owner John Secretan, is a dental client of Baba's. She approached him four years ago about supplying heirlooms for the cafe.

When harvests are bountiful, Zinc receives 10 to 15 pounds three times a week.

Last year, Baba, 56, who splits his time between homes in Fallbrook and Irvine, picked 100 pounds a week.

The yield this year has been smaller because of a May heat wave that caused some tomatoes to ripen early, Baba said.

He also grows zucchini, Valencia oranges, lemons, kumquats and kidney beans on the farm but doesn't sell those crops.

Baba credits familial lines for his green thumb. His mother and grandfather grew up on farms.

The heirlooms are also used in Zinc's takeout offerings, such as salads and sandwiches. For the salad, sliced tomatoes are paired with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

If the delivery is sufficient, customers may also have the option of purchasing tomatoes dressed with little more than olive oil and red onion, Rosemarie Secretan said.

With tomatoes this fresh, John Secretan said, recipes remain simple.

"They are so delicious, you don't need to do a lot to them," he said.

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