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All About Food: A passion for sustainable foods

We would like to state clearly that we are not on the payroll at Sapphire; but between Azmin Ghahreman’s boundless energy and enthusiasm for new projects and menus, as well as the fact that he has an amazing publicist in Marguarite Clark, who keeps us abreast of the news, we seem to be writing a lot of articles lately about the doings at Sapphire.

Recently we attended the fascinating Local Harvest Dinner Party at Sapphire that brought together a number of people who are interested in promoting environmental awareness and local sustainable products. Azmin himself, only uses products from California and is committed to these principles.

In addition to a delicious dinner, we had the opportunity to talk with Evan Marks, founder and director of the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, Tim Hussman, president of the Newport Meat Co. (a Laguna resident), Janet Andrews and Kelly Yrarrazaval, “the bee ladies" who are the proprietors of Backyard Bees, and Gary Edwards, a part-time cheesemaker and full-time marketer and supplier from Sonoma.

All of these people are Azmin’s good friends and match his passion for what they do. At some point in the evening, each one of them separately praised Azmin for his great heart.

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Evan, who describes himself as a surfer, is a native Californian who became interested in the environment when he joined the Surfrider Foundation and discovered that people have the ability to directly impact their environment. Going on to study agroecology at UC Santa Cruz, he later worked in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Ghana, Nigeria and California in the area of ecological design and sustainable agriculture.

Eighteen months ago, he founded the Ecology Center, which is at South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano.

The goal of the center is to engage members of the community in fun, hands on activities that teach environmental solutions at the household and community level. The method is to learn by doing. He and Azmin are engaged in developing a program for the kids at St. Anne’s School so that they can participate in the entire life-cycle of planting, tending, harvesting and eating what they grow.

The vegetables, grown by schoolchildren at the farm, were featured at the dinner. They were the highlight of the vegetarian entrée, which included winter squash soup, stuffed zucchini blossoms, squash cubes with farro and zucchini ratatouille.

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Laguna resident Tim Hussman grew up on the family farm in Maryland and got his start in the meat business at the age of 9, when he sold his first Angus steer at the county fair. His interest in agriculture led him to study at Virginia Tech and then abroad in New Zealand.

He is now the president of Newport Meat Co., a leading wholesale purveyor of top quality meats and game. He works with local ranchers and farmers to provide naturally grown California beef, lamb, turkey, chicken and game birds to many distinguished chefs throughout the Western United States. That, of course, includes Sapphire.

Tim says his mission has always been to source and supply “the finest meats to the finest kitchens." He does sell some of them retail, and they can be found at 99 Market in Irvine and Bristol Farms in Newport.

Janet Andrews had a bee problem. Strangely, so had almost everyone else at our table. Janet, however, handled hers differently. She was told that she had the option of exterminating or saving them, and she chose the latter. In the process, she became fascinated with all things honeyed.

She studied hard and taught herself about the intricacies of bee keeping. When Kelly Yrarrazaval discovered a hive in her backyard, she was told about Janet, who came to her rescue and that of the bees as well. Kelly became equally intoxicated and committed to saving rather than destroying bees.

Together they started Backyard Bees, a service to remove, relocate and manage hives throughout Southern California. After an article ran about their efforts, they were swarmed with people asking for their help.

At the moment, they have about 40 hives in various locations that they manage for their clients. For instance, there are four hives on the roof of Laguna Woods City Hall.

They say bees do well in an urban environment, where they can feed on a variety of plants. Janet and Kelly attribute some of the bee crisis to vast agribusiness farms that have a single crop, limiting biodiversity. We sampled one of their delightful honeys with the cheese course. If you are bugged by bees, call them at (800) 476-6105.

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The cheese was provided by Gary Edwards, something of a Renaissance man: a part-time cheese maker (owner of Monterey Cheese Co. in Sonoma) and a full-time business marketer as well as the primary cheese supplier to major retailers and food manufacturers nationwide.

He owns Sonoma Valley Olive Oil Co., which donates all its profits to art education. He is the founder of the Slow Food Movement in Sonoma. In his spare time he is a private pilot and a part-time farmer at Green String Farm in Petaluma. Green Stream is “farming beyond organic."

They have organic cover crops, which restore nitrogen and soften the soil.

They make their own compost teas that limit insect problems and provide diverse leaf structure. Sheep grazing removes weeds. Crushed volcanic rock and oyster shell provide mineral nutrition and natural mined sulfa controls mildew.

He brought five lovely cheeses: farmhouse cheddar, aged manchego served with a wonderful tomato marmalade made at Green String Farm, a triple cream brie, dry Monterey jack with rosemary, a Point Reyes blue that was served with Green String Farm fig jam and finally a fontina, cheddar and havarti mix.

It was exciting to spend time with these passionate people who are deeply committed to excellent sustainable food and to the health of the environment.

We have just received new information about the availability of Sapphire’s spice plates. You are in luck as they are available every day from 4 to 8 p.m. until the end of the year.


ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@yahoo.com

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