Chino Farm Fieldtrip
I was in partly sunny San Diego last weekend, where I caught up with 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef Gavin Kaysen at his restaurant, El Bizcocho, which I’m told means either “the sponge cake” or “the water bug.” My most vivid memory of my meal is of the incredibly fresh and intensely flavorful green beans, which Kaysen sliced into thin disks and used to garnish a piece of seared ahi tuna. The beans, Kaysen said, came from nearby Chino Farm, the multigenerational 50-acre family farm hidden among the Range Rovers and mansions in tony Rancho Sante Fe. I needed to eat more of these beans, so I drove up to the farm Saturday morning. I found my beans and bagged a pound. Then I saw some just-picked white corn, and some glossy-ripe strawberries, and some deep purple tomatoes… and $30 later I had three bags of produce and no idea what to do with it all.
The corn was so amazing I didn’t want to waste a molecule of it, so I practiced some “husk-to-cob” cooking. I put half of the kernels raw into a corn and tomato salad; the rest I simmered in butter and milk—along with the grated “corn milk” from the cobs—to make a rich creamed corn. I wrapped the husks around some giant scallops I found at a fish market in La Jolla and baked the bundles in a hot oven until the husks turned brown and infused the scallop with a mild corny flavor (I still can’t believe this worked). Even the silks had their turn; I quickly fried them (they taste corny too) to make a nest for my corn-husk-scallop bundles. Oh, and the beans: All they needed was a quick blanch and a simple dressing made from brown butter and lemon juice.
I’ve heard chefs gush about Chino for years, and for years I’ve also heard their worried whispers that the family is about sell the farm (one local restaurateur told me they’ve been offered $2.5 million an acre). It will be a shame if Chino ever does sell, but it’ll be an even bigger shame if there aren’t any farms that can fill the void.