Farm-to-table (aka farm to fork) has become such a ubiquitous buzz word in the restaurant industry that it’s true meaning is lost. Yet, there are a few in Orange County that “walk the walk” and buy the produce served in their establishments directly from local farmers for service that day or have on-site gardens that supply much of the produce for their eateries. Then there is Chef Adam Navidi, whose passion for sustainability and obsessive research led to farming and foraging to supply his restaurant Oceans & Earth in Yorba Linda and whose production has spawned a community CSA and can be found at several local farmers’ markets. Literally, a one-man “seed to fork” movement dedicated to bringing slow food to a city where fast food reigns. It’s a good thing he welcomes a challenge.
Google Chef Navidi and you’ll learn through video interviews and photo essays that he is a real farmer and Future Foods Farm (FFF) stands out as a sustainable-agriculture innovator. In 10 greenhouses amidst 25 acres of arid land in what remains of rural North Orange County, Navidi has designed and built a closed-loop system that involves live tilapia fish whose waste water feeds the plant beds, which then filters the water and subsequently recycles it back to the fish tank. Each stage of the tilapias growth is orchestrated by an automated “brain” and they feed only on pure aquaponic-grown Duck weed, which is why FFF’s tilapia tastes like a delicate white fish with none of the muddy flavor one can experience with other farmed tilapia.
After touring the farm, you know it is no side project, in fact, given the daily morning hours spent on his farm and its ambitious projects, Navidi’s restaurant could easily be called his side project, but that would be a discredit to his passion for both. Chef Navidi is most definitely one of the most provocative chefs I’ve ever encountered, and one whose passion for sustainability and food issues goes beyond rhetoric.
I could go on and on about Future Foods Farms, but I’ll save that for a future post. For now, let me share the epic dinner we experienced at Oceans & Earth that showcased the produce, edible flowers, foraged weeds, and tilapia from FFF.
Prelude to dinner – a few enticing shots of what was in store for our intimate group of food writers.
The first course was Tasting Of Tides. Future Foods Farm Tilapia and Oceans Rose Abalone Ceviche, with greenhouse tomatoes and hand-picked wild clover, also from the farm. The Crab Croquettes with Lobster Grass and Moss Rose Aioli were exactly how a crab cake should be – all crab, no fillers and delightfully presented perched atop a smooth black stone like the ones used for Hot Stone massages. A single seared Sea Scallop in a striated rose-colored shell was perfectly seared and paired with a tangle of seaweed and an bright Orange-Ginger reduction. Last but not least, the Tidepool Sea Urchin, Hope Ranch Mussels and Lobster bathed in a Mugwort stock and reminiscent of a New England chowder brightened with a generous float of foraged Stinging Nettle. Paired with a perfectly balanced Decoy Sauvignon Blanc-Sonoma County 2014 with notes of Key lime, orange zest and Honeycrisp apple.
The second course was Future Foods Farm Salad in Backyard Grapefruit. The baby butter lettuce, was complemented by the Avocado, Saffron Shrimp, and Shrimp Chicharron (a popular snack in Peru) and offered satisfying crunchy texture that is always an integral component of a salad, for me anyway. Perfect pairing: a crisp and palate-pleasing Cakebread Chardonnay- 2013.
Moving on to the third course – a delicate Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass pan seared to crispy amber perfection served on a bed of creamy Greenhouse Basil Mashed Potatoes, topped with Caramelized Shallots and a Red Wine Reduction. A memorable dish, especially when paired with a 2012 Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir.
Even though portions were kept small, we were feeling pleasantly satiated until the next course appeared. Laying eyes on the fourth course called Duck Over Wild Mustard Fields, my appetite renewed with the words ‘duck confit’. Prepared confit style (cooked in its own fat), the nicely crisped duck leg and breast were simply adorned with duck pate and a fig glaze in a field of mustard verde. Our gracious hostess and Chef Adam’s partner and better half, General Manager Barbie Wheatley surprised us with a pairing of Justin Cabernet Sauvignon saying she would only serve guests wine that she herself enjoys. The always superb Justin Cab balanced the saltiness and rich fatty flavor of duck confit perfectly.
By the fifth course, conversation was lively and my palate was blowing up. Enter the Evolution Burger – grass-fed beef combined with aged cheddar cheese, tomato, onion, and lettuce, wrapped in a gluten-free pastry dough. Boom! A moist meatball slider flavor bomb slathered in barbecue truffle sauce so ravishing that my blurry pic does it no justice. Paired with a 2012 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah whose soft tannins and pronounced lush fruit flavors of blueberry, raspberry and boysenberry with jolts of tobacco and black pepper have garnered it a 90 rating from Wine Enthusiast and 92 from Wine Advocate.
Our savory courses wrapped up with a stunning Hot Rock Steak. Premium Akaushi Kobe Sirloin on a hot rock throne accompanied by a dollop of creamy avocado chimichurri and seductive mushrooms in a pool of lava sauce. A seductively spicy 2012 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel punctuated the dish’s bold elegance.
But wait! Of course, there was a dessert course that couldn’t be passed up, especially since it was a homemade Pie Surprise – a duo of buttery, flaky crusted Berry Pie with Vanilla Bean ice cream and Apple Pie with luscious Poppy Seed ice cream with a side of Porto Kopke 10-year old Tawny Port.
Oceans & Earth is tucked in the corner next to a Starbucks in Eastlake Village Shopping Center on Yorba Linda Blvd. The unpretentious locale and modest decor belies the artistry of the plates emerging from the compact kitchen. Pops of original metal sculpture and artwork catch your eye and a mellow duo playing familiar tunes in the main dining room soothes and gives further cause to linger. Our party was seated at an inviting communal high top in the front room with a view of the syncopated action happening in the kitchen.
Chef Adam Navidi and GM Barbara Wheatley – Oceans & Earth, Yorba Linda
20305 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
Eastlake Village Center next to Starbucks
Visit their website for reservations and more information on tours and upcoming foraging events at the farm.
The Future is Now!
Future Foods Farms produces all organically grown products in their 2,000-4,000 square-feet greenhouses and is one of the largest aquaponic farms in the state. This crop of fresh, healthy foods are showcased at Chef Adam Navidi’s catered events, his Oceans & EarthPop-Up Restaurant Concept, the community Future Foods Farms CSA or at one of the local farmers’ markets. Several restaurants and health food markets will be offering the exclusive line soon. By purchasing your fresh foods from Future Foods Farms, you will be contributing to the Growing Green movement in America by helping your local community reduce their carbon footprint. All of the products are grown locally, without harmful chemicals, pesticides, or synthetic nutrients, and use considerably less water and power than hydroponic and conventional farming.
Disclosure: Our dinner was hosted by Oceans & Earth and I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the innovations in tilapia farming and aquaponics that Chef Navidi has spearheaded. All opinions are my own.