Sustainable and Scrumptious

Chef Robert Nyerick's tuna tartare
(Photo courtesy of Gaston)

It’s a “back to the future” concept that’s rocking the culinary world and changing the way we eat: farm-to-table dining. And if you want to experience firsthand what the fuss is all about, there may be no better place than the Coachella Valley. It’s one of the largest farming areas in California, and the farm-to-table movement is flourishing there.

You’ll understand the sensation it’s creating the first time you bite into a pear or pomegranate that’s been allowed to ripen naturally before being picked. The sweet, rich, complex flavors are a world apart from what we’re used to — and may even evoke long-forgotten memories of how food once tasted.

“As a kid growing up, you couldn’t find strawberries before June,” recalled Robert Nyerick, executive chef of the Grove Artisan Kitchen at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells. “And when you walked by the produce stand you could really smell them.” But all that changed when out-of-season produce, shipped in from thousands of miles away, became the norm.


From farm to farmers market

Much of the food from the Coachella Valley — a bounty of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, organic meats and more — is produced by small independent farms.

Phil Noble and his wife, Juany, own Sage Mountain Farm and Sage Mountain Beef in Aguanga. Until a few years ago, Noble worked in the insurance industry. “I was glued to the computer and the electronic leash, the cell phone,” he said. Farming was just his hobby. But he was able to turn it into a business because, he explained, “the demand for fresh local meat and produce was staggering.”

Though it takes a lot of hard work and sweat, Noble said, “We have an amazing life growing our own food and working in the fields.”

To help fill the growing demand for food from farmers like the Nobles, Paul and Giacomina Palodichuk started the Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Market in 2008. “One of our farmers picks in the middle of the night with a headlamp,” Giacomina said, then drives straight to the market.

The farmers markets are open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Palm Desert on Wednesday, in Palm Springs and Coachella on Saturday and La Quinta on Sunday.

When you stop by, you can catch a cooking demonstration by Renee Baribeau, whose Cooking Magic classes offer great recipes and unique insights about food, health and happiness.

The bountiful table

One of the great pleasures of travel is discovering wonderful restaurants. And whether you want a casual bite or an elegant evening of haute cuisine, you’ll find the best of both in the Coachella Valley.

For an informal lunch, locals rave about Luscious Lorraine’s in Palm Desert. Owner Lorraine Ornelas not only shops at the farmers market, she also has her own quarter-acre farm. So the veggies in her famous Green Drink or the lettuce on your organic turkey chipotle sandwich may be minutes out of the ground.

No vacation is complete without indulging in at least one gourmet feast, and some of the desert’s finest chefs are farm-to-table enthusiasts who also grow their own herbs and serve fish fresh from SoCal waters.

Chef Nyerick at the Grove Artisan Kitchen uses local ingredients for specialties like ahi tuna tartare with avocados, teardrop tomatoes and tiny greens. And Chef Schmidt at Morgan’s in the Desert can thrill your palate with his crispy baby artichokes with Temecula olives and almonds.

Other chefs offering the farm-to-table experience include Robert Douglas at Sense, Pierre Pelech at Chez Pierre and Vince Cultraro at La Spiga in Palm Desert, and Tara Lazar at Cheeky’s in Palm Springs.

These are just a few of the restaurants offering a farm-to-table experience, but you might even discover your own. In fact, when you strike up a conversation with a fellow shopper at the farmers market, he or she just might be another superb Coachella Valley chef.

Maxine Nunes, Custom Publishing Writer