Edible SLO → Fork in the Road: Biddle Ranch Vineyard

Fork in the Road: Biddle Ranch Vineyard

food writing by Kendra Aronson
food photography by
Kendra Aronson

Have you ever noticed that beautiful, iconic, old barn situated off the 227 as you are leaving San Luis Obispo and heading into the heart of Edna Valley? There used to be a “for sale” sign outside the barn for years until one day Anne Fortini finally reached out to the real estate agent to inquire about the property details. The Fortinis, along with their friends (and now business partners) the Rawlings, the Roncas, and the Woolperts, purchased the property together in 2012 with the vision of producing incredible regional wine, having an on-site tasting room, and converting the existing home into a rental property. “A lot of the partners have really strong ties to the Central Coast—many of them grew up here as small children. It’s exciting to finally be here, it’s exactly what everyone had envisioned for Biddle Ranch Vineyard,” smiles General Manager Leigh Woolpert.

In 2014 they hired on renowned winemaker Ryan Deovlet to develop and manage their wine operations; in 2015 they renovated the ranch house into a stunning VRBO and wedding venue; and in November 2016 they opened up their on-site tasting room—with everything finally in place, 2017 is going to be a big year for Biddle!

To make their dreams into a reality, each partner brought their unique skill set to the collaborative table. “Mark Woolpert particularly was really involved from an architectural standpoint, designing the building, and playing off the structures that were already here. He wanted to design the new tasting room in such a way that it feels like it fits here and it has a sense that’s it’s been here as long as the other buildings on the property,” explained Leigh. Anne being an Interior Designer [of Fortini Interiors] was really involved aesthetically with the interiors and exteriors of both the tasting room and the ranch rental; her son Ryan [of Fortini Landscapes] is a Landscape Architect was heavily involved from a design standpoint designing all the hardscapes and softscapes; and the Roncas and the Rawlings brought their business expertise to the entire joint venture. “The partners and everyone working here created this space to make it feel like you are at home—it was really made for the San Luis Obispo community. Grab a glass, grab a bottle, make yourself comfortable with an indoor or outdoor tasting. We want you to really experience where we live, soak it all in, and enjoy it,” Leigh beams.

The Biddle Ranch Tasting Room is open Thursday through Monday, 11-5 pm., Tuesdays and Wednesdays by appointment only. Summer 2017 they will be open every day; for current wine selection and ranch rental inquiries, visit www.biddleranch.com.

Spotlight on Winemaker Ryan Deovlet

“I love the craft of winemaking. It’s a 6,000 year old craft, and to be able to carry the torch for a little bit as a winemaker and to have a career in that is an honor,” says Ryan Deovlet—a humble, genuine, salt-of-the-earth man whose passion for winemaking is positively palpable.

Tell me about your first experience in winemaking.

I was in this wanderlust period after graduating UC San Diego with a Sociology & Economics degree—I thought I was going to go into law. But before I went to law school I wanted to travel a little bit, I found this program in Australia and New Zealand, it’s called Willing Workers on Organic Farms [WWOOF]. I got the WWOOF program and circled all the vineyards because my Dad was a wine drinker, and I wanted to travel to these places on a bit of a budget, and I wanted to see the country, and to learn at the same time. Within 6 months I was officially bit by the wine bug. I just loved it, I thought everyone was so passionate and their work ethic was through the roof and yet no c omplaints, they were in the right place.

What drew you to the Central Coast?

It would be hard not to speak about the transverse mountain ranges, proximity to the ocean, and these diurnal shifts that we have so that we can get a great kiss of sunshine in the area all the while retaining good acidity from colder nights. You get fantastic flavor development and phenolic maturity in the grape, plus you get good acidity which is very nice for food and wine.

What is the most exciting thing about producing wine in Edna Valley?

The vibrancy of Edna Valley—compared to Napa and Sonoma—we are only 30 years young [in Edna Valley] and we are taking such phenomenal strides. Not only what the grapes, the soil, and terroir can provide, but we can rely on the youth of the area and learn from the Niven family, the Talley family, Stephen Dooley, Jean-Pierre Wolff, Claiborne and Churchill. We can really continue what they’ve done to set the bar, and constantly keep finding the tenderloins and honing in, and making this region better and better.

Wine Profiles + Food Pairings


2013 Chardonnay

This lovely wine offers quintessential Chardonnay flavors and highlights the Edna Valley region with naturally high acidity. Offering seductive fruit and maintaining its freshness, the wine explodes on the palate and provides great length on the finish. Fermented in both stainless steel and neutral French oak barrels. Suggested food pairing: chicken.  

2014 Sauvignon Blanc

Lovely nose of bosc pear, lychee, green apple, and white flowers with a flinty mineral undertone. The palate delivers bright delineated fruit, and pristine focus, all the while filling out a rounder mid-palate from its time in barrel. This wine was aged in both stainless steel and neutral French oak barrels for 10 months. Suggested food pairing: salad or cheese.

2014 Syrah

The wine has stunning aromatic lift offering an expressive nose of blue and black fruit, dark olive, espresso and bakers’ chocolate alongside beautiful floral notes of violet and plum blossom. Balanced with both power and concentration from the warmer vintage and freshness from the coastal vineyards, the wine has great structure and the quintessential chalky tannins of Syrah. Suggested food pairing: pork.

2014 Odyssey-Thurlestone Pinot Noir

Wonderful red fruit, quintessential brightness and acidity found in pinot noir, with stunning palate presence and texture. Suggested food pairing: fish.

2014 Spanish Springs Pinot Noir

This single vineyard wine leaps from the glass with sweet dark cherry, plum skin and spice. With the addition of 50% whole cluster fermentation, the wine has great structure and a tight core, that with air offers bright red fruit, herbs, crushed flowers, potpourri, and sassafras. Suggested food pairing: red meat.

Biddle Ranch Wine Club Membership Perks

  • Free to join!

  • Enjoy 15-20% discounts off all wine purchases based on your membership

  • Complimentary tastings for members + 2 guests (4 total)

  • Exclusive members-only events (pick-up parties, winemakers dinner) and promotions (access to newly released wine and first dibs on library wines)

  • Priority reservations at the Biddle Ranch Tasting Room

Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Spring 2017
 · Issue 17

Edible SLO → Back of the House: Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen


Back of the House: Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen

food writing by Kendra Aronson
food photography by
Kendra Aronson


Restaurateur Debbie Thomas has defied all odds. In 2003 she left her corporate job to start an organic farm—with no farming experience; and in 2009 she started a farm-to-table bistro and wine bar in Paso Robles—with no restaurant experience. During the 2016 holidays she opened up a sister restaurant in San Luis Obispo: Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen. One part grit, one part vision, and one par perseverance—that’s the recipe of her success story.  


14 years ago, her and her ex-partner started an organic farm in the hills of Paso Robles. They had 900 fruit and nut trees, as well as various row crops. “From there we did CSA programs [Community Supported Agriculture] where our neighbors would buy boxes of produce on a weekly and monthly basis; then we ended up having so much fruit that we didn’t know what to do! We decided to open a restaurant—not knowing anything about a restaurant but I saw a beautiful location in Paso Robles. It was hidden, it had a patio—I saw Europe in it,” she reminisces.


Her corporate life required a lot of worldwide travel and clientele entertaining, a skill set which inadvertently played a huge role in her career today. “Part of my job was sales and entertaining, and of course when you are entertaining you take people to nice places, and you have great food and great wine. Pretty much that is how I developed my palate. It was fun.” Debbie has great taste, both literally (in food) and figuratively (in interior design). Her menus are ever-changing based on the availability of fresh produce at the local farmers’ markets. The ambiance of each location caters to different crowds—cozy, eclectic, and casual for the wine aficionados in Paso Robles; and, chic with a touch of old world charm for the urban folks in downtown San Luis Obispo. Although their seasonally-driven menu changes frequently, (nearly) year-round crowd pleasers include: black lentil tacos with carrot purée, candied jalapeño, cashews, cilantro, coconut; avocado toast with soft scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, Hush Harbor levain, aïoli, chili; and Olea Farms lemon verbena olive oil cake with seasonal preserves. “Our emphasis is really on organic; we use farms that do not use sprays and pesticides. I’m into the environment, I care about how animals are raised. I want natural and grass-fed, knowing that these animals are in pastures and able to walk around. I just believe in supporting the local agricultural community, and most of all: local produce tastes better.”


The cuisine at both Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Bar (Paso Robles) and Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen (San Luis Obispo) is all about utilizing high-quality produce and proteins, and working within the creative constraints of super fresh, hyper local, and sometimes seasonally fleeting ingredients. “We don’t have a freezer in Paso, it was a deliberate decision so that we are not bringing in frozen products, we are bringing in everything fresh. In San Luis we have a very small under-the-counter freezer and it’s used exclusively for ice cream. We are local and we want to bring in fresh things daily—sometimes at night we run out of things, but that’s who we are,” explains Debbie.


Her phenomenal chefs, Executive Chef Justin Casey and Chef de Cuisine Elijah Blackburn, are both at the farmers’ markets multiple times a week to keep up with the demand of running two true farm-to-table establishments. To get a taste of what their currently cooking up at their new location, visit Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen located at 858 Monterey Street in the new San Luis Obispo Chinatown. Check out their website for hours of operation: www.thomashillorganics.com.


Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Spring 2017
 · Issue 17

Food52 → 5 Insider Tips for (Successfully) Self-Publishing That Cookbook You Dream About

In Part 1 of this mini series, I previously shared how design dictates everything and how to reverse engineer your production timeline based on your release date (plus 3 more tips!). Now it’s time to dive deeper into other important elements: cover design, recipe testing, proofing, campaigning, and marketing!

Photo by Joe Johnston.

Photo by Joe Johnston.

1. Make a Big Impact With Your Cover.

Everyone judges a book by it's cover—whoever says differently is lying. The goal of a book cover is two-fold: First, it must be eye-catching enough to grab someone’s attention, and second, it must be intriguing enough to make a potential reader physically pick up copy (or click to learn more if perusing the internet). The cover is the ultimate marketing hook—your cover will make or break your sales.


A good rule of thumb here is, “Show, Don’t Tell.” Imagine if your book cover did not display your title and subtitle—would your imagery or illustrations be able to stand on their own to succinctly convey the inner content of the book? Does your cover give readers a compelling glimpse that encapsulates your cookbook’s core message? For example, my cookbook is all about farm-to-table, seasonal, from-scratch cooking and all of my food photography is shot on a black background; my cover demonstrates both those themes. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so make it count.

To learn more, I highly recommend taking “Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual” taught by legendary book cover design and industry expert Chip Kidd on Skillshare.

Photo by Tina Loveridge.

Photo by Tina Loveridge.

2. Recipe Test First; Style and Shoot Later.

Even though my cookbook took two and a half years to produce, I was always operating on a tight production schedule. Oftentimes this meant recipe testing a recipe contributed by a chef, frantically scribbling notes on a scrap piece of paper as I was preparing it, then plating, styling, and shooting that dish all in one afternoon. I learned the hard way that I should recipe test first, fine tune it, and get familiar with the end result so that I could set myself up for success for styling and shooting on another date. Sometimes trying to do too many things all at once is not as productive as it seems; single-tasking truly is the new multitasking.

3. Give Yourself Plenty of Time for Proofing—and Throw a Proofing Party!

Please note: The editing and proofing process takes time (give yourself more time than you think) and do not rush this stage of the process. Editing tip: Take your written content (recipes, stories, captions, quotes) from your Word doc, change the font to something hideous (think: Comic Sans, gasp!), print out the doc, and then edit, edit, edit. You will be shocked as to how many mistakes you find off-screen and how blatantly obvious typos look when displayed in a terrible typeface!

Make sure you get fresh eyes to edit your content; if you can hire an editor, it’s worth every penny. Next, you will submit your already-edited files to your printer and then receive proofs in return. These proofs display what your pages will actually look like in the final cookbook. Now is the time to throw a proofing party! Prepare some bites to eat (make your favorite recipes from your soon-to-be-printed cookbook), invite over your friends who have a penchant for grammar, and let them go to town with their red pens.

4. Pre-Order Campaigns Are Genius.

Self-publishing = self-financing. In order to take part of the financial burden off of your shoulders (read: savings), I highly suggest launching a pre-order campaign in order to fund the upfront printing costs of your cookbook. Raising capital through a crowdfunding campaign is a great way to create buzz before the book comes out, build momentum with press mentions, connect with your future readers, and gauge the overall interest of your cookbook in the marketplace. When I launched my Kickstarter campaign, I was able to create a lot of excitement about the soon-to-be released cookbook by being featured in local and national media (on the radio, on blogs, in newspapers, in magazines) while building a solid community of folks that would champion the cookbook in their own social media feeds.

5. Create a Solid Media Kit.

In order to make a big splash in the media, you have to be prepared. While my Kickstarter campaign was live I created a comprehensive media kit with links, press releases (in various word counts), e-flyers, downloadable high res photos (portraits, book cover, sample pages), and shareable social media (copy and paste, plug and chug!). The point of a press kit is to make it super simple for others to share your news. When media outlets come knocking on your door, you want to have all your ducks in a row. This will save you an immense amount of time when someone reaches out requesting a portrait, a paragraph about your cookbook, and where to direct people to learn more. All you have to do is send them the link to your media kit and you are done!

Self-publishing is clearly a labor of love, but immensely rewarding. Best of luck to all of those out there that are pursuing their cookbook dreams!

The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook—produced by writer, photographer, designer, and self-publisher Kendra Aronson—features 60 seasonal recipes and 40 short stories from the Central Coast of California.

Kendra Aronson loves playing with food—styling food, photographing food, devouring food. She is likely planning her next meal. 


Originally published on Food52
January 3, 2017


For those who are unfamiliar, Sophia Amoruso (Founder of Nasty Gal) wrote the New York Times Bestseller #Girlboss—required reading for any girl interested in owning her own business and owning her own life.

At 22 years old, Sophia dropped out of community college and spent her free time hitchhiking, dumpster diving, and committing petty theft. Directionless, broke, and afflicted with a hernia, she wound up with a ho-hum desk job of checking IDs at an art school lobby (in order to get health insurance).

During her boring day job she created an eBay store: Nasty Gal Vintage. Long story short, what started as a one-woman operation has become the fastest-growing e-commerce site in the world and has landed Sophia on Forbes Richest Self-Made Women List with an estimated net worth of $280 million! Yup, a true rags-to-riches story.  
Needless to say, she is a total badass and incredible inspiration worldwide. 

In 2014 she wrote #Girlboss to share her unique journey which ignited the #girlboss movement. That same year she launched the #Girlboss Foundation to award financial grants to women in the worlds of design, fashion, music, and the arts. In 2015 she launched #Girlboss Radio, a podcast featuring interviews of world-class girlbosses who have made their mark in creative, cultural, and business ventures. Each week Sophia invites gals to share their #girlbossmoment of the week on social media and she celebrates those moments with her audience on her podcast and blog


A few weeks ago I posted my #girlbossmoment of the week on Instagram:

💃🏻  My #girlbossmoment of the week 👉🏼  Wowie! What a thrill to see my @food52 article live on the site today! " The First Five Steps to Self-Publishing Your Cookbook" 💭 📝 📸 🍴 🖥 📬 📦 📚 #Food52 is the dreamiest food site and it's a privilege to share my tips with their readership—fellow foodies and cookbook aficionados (my kind of people!) 😛 🍴 🙌🏼 ‼️ 



"Thanks again for sharing your story with us; Sophia was really delighted by your success :)" 

—staff writer for #Girlboss



photo credit: Joe Johnston. 

photo credit: Joe Johnston

“My name is Kendra Aronson and I’m the writer, photographer, designer, and self-publisher of The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook. When I started this personal passion project (now a profitable book business!) I couldn’t claim those creative titles as my own.

When it came to cooking, I had no formal culinary training. When it came to writing, I had never been formally published in print anywhere. When it came to photography, I wasn’t familiar with most of the settings on my camera. When it came to design, I didn’t own a single Adobe program—hell, I didn’t even know how to import an image into Photoshop, let alone lay out an entire book in InDesign! This just goes to show you, if you have an idea and the grit to make that idea happen, you really can do anything you set your mind to.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages & Literature (Spanish, French, and Italian) and a Master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), how did I end up producing a cookbook from scratch? I did it the way any big idea comes to fruition: a lot of late nights and early mornings, learn-by-doing, and Googling—all while holding down a day job to pay the bills. I started in April 2013 by shopping at farmers' markets, interviewing farmers, going to farms, testing recipes contributed by local chefs from farm-to-table restaurants, researching food photography and food styling, taking courses on Skillshare, educating myself on editorial design and negotiating with printers. Then came the scary part: creating a crowdfunding campaign with a solid marketing plan and social media strategy.

On July 27, 2015, I launched my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the up-front printing costs to make my cookbook a tangible reality for the 2015 holidays. To my wild surprise, I ended up hitting my asking goal of 12k in just 10 days, and my project was chosen—out of thousands of live campaigns—to be featured on the homepage of Kickstarter.com A huge #girlbossmoment!


On December 1, 2015 four huge pallets carrying 2,000 copies of my cookbook fresh off the press were delivered to my driveway. Words truly cannot describe what it felt like to hold the cookbook in my hands for the first time! Then I blinked, and 3 weeks went by: all 2,000 copies were gone in just 20 days. The inventory I purchased (which I thought would realistically last 5 years, ha!) was completely sold out and all my retailers sold out before Christmas, too. I had absolutely no idea the response would be so overwhelmingly positive!

In March 2016 I was able to fund a second print run of 6,000 copies and this December I will be getting another 6,000. The book is now available at 70+ retailers and all the California locations of Barnes & Noble. It’s garnered the attention of farm-to-table goddess Alice Waters, Food52, and now Girlboss! It’s been an amazing journey thus far, and I’m already working on my next cookbook—stay tuned!”




1. Be enthusiastic; your energy and excitement will attract others. Being a go-getter with a great attitude will draw in crowds, promise!

2. Share your acquired expertise with others. I’m always learning and sharing my resources with others. Since the launch of the book, I’ve taught in-person workshops on food photography, Kickstarter, and self-publishing.

3. Trust your personal path. Like most gals in their mid-twenties, I felt lost and worked a string of jobs until I found the one that stuck. Trust that you will find the career that will make you thrive, and if you can’t find it, create it like I did.


www.slofarmersmarketcookbook.com // www.kendraaronson.com // @kendraaronson


Originally published on #Girlboss on October 26, 2016.


Coyote + Oak is a printed magazine, created by and showcasing California artists and entrepreneurs. After Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Wallace realized there were very few outlets for creative folks to share their stories and projects in a tangible, detailed form, the idea of her self-published magazine began. Her non-profit magazine features artists who are following their passions—whether they are creating a business, or simply finding moments in between family and work to make their creativity come to life. 

I'm honored to be featured in Volume III, enjoy!

Writing by Caleb Wiseblood
Photography by Tina Loveridge

When someone texts me: “Farmers?”, I automatically assume that person is inviting me to farmers’ market—specifically the one held every Thursday evening in downtown San Luis Obispo. But from now on my response to such texts will not be, “I’m down” or, “I can’t make it”. Instead I’ll reply with: “Which one? Tuesday afternoon? Saturday morning? Sunday morning?” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg! There isn’t a single day of the week that SLO County doesn’t host a farmers’ market. My text continues: “Monday in Los Osos?…Wednesday in Pismo?…Friday in Avila?!” Upon double checking page 8 of The San Luis Obispo Farmer’s Market Cookbook, I realize I’ve excluded: Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Cambria, Cayucos, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Paso Robles, and Templeton.

The book itself isn’t divided according to location, rather it’s organized by season, starting with summer recipes. Coincidentally, this happens to be author Kendra Aronson’s favorite time of the year. “August and September are great because absolutely everything is in season, from stone fruit to winter squash,” Aronson told me at Linnaea’s Café, where we met and discussed the book over a pot of Earl Grey.  

As I’m typing this article weeks later, it is 90 degrees outside and hot tea is the last thing on my mind. Iced tea, on the other hand (specifically “Jerry’s Double Citrus Iced Mint Tea”) sounds great! Lucky for me, there is a recipe for it on page 29. But now I’m left wondering who this Jerry person is. In the bottom right corner it states: “Recipe contributed by Jerry Rutiz, Rutiz Family Farms (p. 180)”. I flip to the page and find the Jerry I’ve been looking for. I’m given a brief, but insightful glimpse into his life. A verbal snapshot of over 30 years of farming experience. Jerry is 1 out of the 40 mini biographies featured in The SLO Farmer’s Market Cookbook, hence the subtitle: Simple Seasonal Recipes & Short Stories from the Central Coast of California.

Aronson spent more than 2 years compiling these tales, getting to know as many farmers’ market vendors, farm-to-table chefs, and food artisans as possible. The cookbook features 60 recipes total and every person included contributed at least 1 recipe. Each seasonal section is broken down into 5 categories: Breakfast, Light Bites, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert. Aronson strongly recommends the Grilled Salmon with Broiled Apricot Jalapeño Preserves for lunch. Her favorite light bite recipe is the Garlicky Blackened Brussels Sprouts with Meyer Lemon Aioli. As for dessert, it’s a tie for her between White Peach & Olallieberry Crumble with Whipped Cream and the Pistachio Crust Honeyed Goat Cheese Cheesecake.

“I remember the first time I ever went to the downtown SLO farmers’ market. It was right before my first year at Cal Poly,” Aronson fondly recalled. “It was during WOW [Week of Welcome]. What I remember most distinctly were the strawberries—I was blown away.  I’d never tasted strawberries that good before!”  she said excitedly, as if it was happening all over again.

The same nostalgic enthusiasm manifested when Aronson described growing up in San Diego and her first job at age 12. She worked as a hostess at Tony’s Jacal, a family-owned and operated Mexican restaurant. Aronson got hired due to the fact that Tony is Tony Gonzales, her grandpa, who opened the Jacal in 1946. “I’m not sure what the labor laws were back then, but I was getting paid $5 an hour, under the table,” she said. “I would usually work 4-hour shifts, so my aunt would just give me a 20 from the cash register at the end of the night.” My right hand freezes. “Wait, how do you spell Jacal?” I naively ask her, before jotting down my best guess. “J-A-C-A-L, it’s Spanish for little shack,” she said politely.

Speaking of Spanish, Spanish is only 1 out of the 3 languages Aronson studied during college, along with French and Italian. She graduated from Poly in 2009, with a B.A. in Modern Languages and Literature. Then Aronson moved to San Francisco in 2010 for graduate school at SFSU. “That’s when I really got into the food scene and food blogging,” she revealed. “I did the Big Eat SF, it’s a list of 100 things you must eat in San Francisco that is compiled by the lifestyle magazine 7x7. I ate my way through the list and documented everything on my blog.” Aronson received her M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in 2012. She moved back to SLO in 2013 and got a teaching position at Verbling, an online language learning platform. It was April of that year that she began work on the cookbook.

Between then and now, Aronson’s life sounds like an elaborate balancing act. In 2014, she launched Kendra Aronson Creative Studio, which provides various services such as writing, photography, graphic design, and web design. Aronson became particularly immersed in designing websites for small businesses. Notable clients include Ember, SLO Provisions, and Noonan’s Wine Country Designs. In 2015, she founded The Central Coast Creatives Club, which meets monthly and is meant to facilitate collaborations between local creatives from every medium. Keep in mind—as all of this was going on—Aronson was simultaneously writing, photographing, designing, and self-publishing The SLO Farmer’s Market Cookbook. How does one juggle any of those things with a full-time teaching job? “What keeps me sane is scheduling, even free time. It’s important to schedule breaks for yourself. I literally calendar out everything: going to a coffee shop, reading, walking my dog,” she replied calmly. I’m nowhere near as organized—except when it comes to shopping lists. My latest one: water, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, citrus, fresh mint, tea bags… and yes, those are the ingredients for Jerry’s Double Citrus Iced Mint Tea.

Originally published in-print in Coyote + Oak Volume III


Field Trip: A True Farm-to-Table Experience

writing by Kendra Aronson
photography by
Kendra Aronson



“At the confluence of food, friends, and farmers, we find community.”

—Field Trip

The mission behind the Field Trip farm dinner series is quite simple: to literally bring the farm to the table. Spearheaded by gal pals Steph Fellows & Cassidy Seckman (also co-creators of Social Ice Cream Co.), their goal is to bring together farmers, chefs, winemakers, foodie friends, and community-oriented folks to share a seasonal meal together al fresco at the communal table at Biddle Ranch Vineyard.

In order to foster deep connections and personal interactions between these unique groups of people, Steph and Cassidy have thoughtfully and intentionally orchestrated the experience to unfold seamlessly throughout the evening. Every Field Trip gathering kicks off with refreshing spritz cocktails, mixed by the hostesses themselves. Next, guests are invited to mingle around the Dwell-esque farmhouse patio and meet their tablemates before settling into their assigned seats. Then comes the feast with dishes like rhubarb strawberry salad with straw smoked goat yogurt, cucumber, celery, and sea salt; grilled lamb with romanesco squash, green beans, and young onions (menu by Chef Spencer Johnston) or dry-farmed tomatoes and lemon cucumber panzanella; stuffed pork ribeye roast with zucchini pie and fire-roasted dragon’s tongue beans (menu by Chef Eli Byron). At the beginning of each course, there is a slight pause for edible education: the chef shares his inspiration behind each carefully crafted plate, and the winemaker shares the tasting notes about the particular wine pairing. “Once you are in that beautiful atmosphere conversing with people, and eating great food paired with great wine, we pause between each course because it allows us to bring the focus back to what’s in front of you,” explains Cassidy.

At this point, the sky is morphing into its signature SLO golden hour, the twinkly outdoor lights are sparkling overhead, the embers from the outdoor oven are radiating, and everyone is positively glowing from the wine… and now, for the moment we’ve all been waiting for—the unsung hero of the evening is finally given their proper spotlight: the farmer. The chef gives a hearty introduction and the admiration for both parties is palpable. The whole night has been leading up to this moment when the hard-working farmer can share their story, their expertise, and answer questions with the eager-to-be-educated diners and conscious consumers.

The overwhelmingly response is that everyone leaves Field Trip dinners with a deeper appreciation for their chef and winemaker, a greater gratitude for their local farmer, and even some newly found friendships.

Hop on the roll call to be notified about upcoming dinners at www.fieldtripwithus.com

1 question, 8 answers.

Field Trip Dinner Co-Founder

“Of course you can shop at farmers’ markets and meet all the farmers, but how often do you get to sit next to the farmer that provides all that food? Having people who normally don’t get the chance to talk or meet is great, it’s bringing the everyone closer together. When you surround yourself with people who appreciate building community, entrepreneurship, and meeting new people, it makes your life better—as simple as that. These dinners are little snippets of that: getting people out of their comfort zone, getting them to sit next to strangers. We know we are doing something right when all the pieces fall into place, and it’s the people that really make the experience what it is.”

Field Trip Dinner Co-Founder

“So many people came up to us after the dinners to thank us—but they are the ones that bought the tickets, they are the ones that value this, this is not about us at all! We just provided the space and they jumped on and believed it was important, that’s way more than anything we could ever do. The food is great, the vineyard is beautiful—but if people remember the community more than anything else that’s what’s important at the end of my day. That’s what has left the longest impact on everybody at the table.”

Biddle Ranch Vineyard — General Manager

“We want to bring people together over good food and good wine, and having a good time by taking advantage of all the resources that we have here—all the amazing chefs and the incredible farms in our area!”

Biddle Ranch Vineyard

“You need to know where you food and drinks come from, and what better way to know than to sit across the table from the farmer and the winemaker! I think it leads people to create bonds in their community. Personally when I go to the grocery store I don’t get that connection. When I go to the farmers’ market and I actually talk to the farmer and create a bond with them, it ties me to them—in the end it’s better for our community and the world!”

Field Trip Dinner #1 — Chef


“It’s our responsibility as young people and the next generation moving forward to re-center what we think about industrial agriculture and what it means to eat, what it means to feed ourselves, and what it means to feed our children in the future. I think it’s really important to establish a center where you can have a community and seek nutrition from that community.”

Field Trip Dinner #1 — Farmer


“Even when people go into a restaurant that is supposedly farm-to-table, there still can be a disconnect, especially when the restaurant is busy. So when it’s [an] intimate [dinner] like this: when you can meet the farmer personally, see how things are grown, and watch the chef prepare the meal, you are just more connected. It’s surprising how disconnected people are from what’s in season.”

Field Trip Dinner #2 — Chef


“It connects the dots for people, even for me. How can we—the farmers, the winemakers, and the chefs—create something together to utilize the produce at the height of the season, and how can we bring community together to taste that and listen to that. You feel the expression from all of us, all at one table. Hopefully it becomes the talk of the town and we are able to do more! It brings in more diners into the area, and it educates the diners that are already here.”

Field Trip Dinner #2 — Farmer


“I hope the people at the dinner table will see the connection that food brings—that it can be grown locally and a small farm can feed a large group of people, it might not be able to feed a whole community or a whole city, but a big part of it can be provided locally. I think that’s so important to do, to keep that local connection. I think it’s important to show them what it takes to bring a meal to the table. I love seeing more people, especially the younger generation, understanding the food chain through educational dinners."

Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Holidays 201
6 · Issue 16


Flour House: A Slice of Naples in San Luis Obispo

writing by Kendra Aronson
photography by
Kendra Aronson

Formerly Vieni Vai Trattoria for 18 years, Debbie and Giuseppe “Joe” Silvestre have handed over the keys to their daughter Gessica and son-in-law Alberto Russo. The husband-and-wife team now own and operate Flour House—the hippest new joint to open up on Higuera earlier this year. Their speciality: authentic Napoletana pizza, scratch made pastas, and a cocktail program that takes a cultural nod to the Italian version of happy hour.

Flour House is the real deal. In fact, the Russos own the only imported Stefano Ferrara wood-burning pizza oven between Los Angeles and San Francisco, an oven specifically engineered for replicating authentic Naples-style pizza. “There are two wood-burning ovens in the world: regular wood-burning ovens and pizza napoletana wood-burning ovens. The latter has a certain type of brick, stone, overall form, and opening. It has a smaller than usual opening in the oven because the heat has to be concentrated because the pizza has to cook quickly,” explains Alberto, the Salerno transplant. According to the European law, the pies must bake between 60-90 seconds at 900°F. Yup, you read that right, pizza laws! Similar to the wine industry and the cheese industry, names are officially protected in order to maintain integrity of the product, e.g. if it’s called Champagne, it comes from Champagne, France. “To claim pizza napoletana on your menu you have to use certain products and use a certain technique. We use 00 flour from Italy for our dough, we use San Marzano tomatoes for our sauce, and we use mozzarella di bufala (buffalo’s milk mozzarella from the pastures of Campania, Italy) for our cheese. The only things that we use here in the United States is water and basil for the pizza. After that, we use so many local products from San Luis Obispo to put on top of the pizza.” Flour House sticks within these pizza parameters and offers their own modern twist by offering three different sauces: rossa, a San Marzano tomato sauce base; bianca, a fior di latte (cow’s milk cheese) base; and verde, a pesto base. Innovative topping combinations include: gorgonzola, speck, and balsamic reduction; or olives, Spanish anchovies, garlic, chili flakes, pecorino, and basil. They even cater to the gluten-intolerant crowd with gluten-free pizza dough and select gluten-free pastas. “The time to make one gluten-free pizza takes about 5x longer as a regular pizza; it's really a long process to stretch the dough because there is no gluten to act as elastic. It takes longer to stretch it, but when you eat it there is no difference. I’ve had a lot of Italians come in here and taste it and they couldn't tell it was gluten-free, which is where I get a lot of satisfaction,” boasts Alberto. [Writer’s note: I tried the two pizzas side-by-side and was unable to detect the difference. Bravo!]

Flour House prides itself on being part pizzeria and part pastaria. Every place mat includes a history and description about their pasta shapes and sizes, as well as accompanying illustrations for some fun tableside reading. “The majority of Italian restaurants here only serve dry pasta and maybe one in-house, like gnocchi or ravioli. Some restaurants will claim that their lasagna is homemade, but the sheets aren't. Yes they compile the layers of lasagna at the restaurant, but it's not homemade. All of the pasta we make is made from scratch and you can really taste the difference,” says Gessica. These two have serious passion for fresh pasta and rightfully so—their pillowy homemade pastas make most guests weak in the knees. Their lineup includes fusilli, spaghetti, pappardelle, ravioli, risotto, gnocchi, and scialatielli two ways (Sorretina style and Amalfi style)—all of which are married with their fresh, from scratch sauces.

Gessica, Italian by blood, and Alberto, Italian by birth, knew they wanted to bring yet another touch of authenticity to their restaurant through their drink menu. In Italy, it’s common for cafeterias—think French brasserie; or a coffee shop with full bar and small bites—to serve Italian apertivi (cocktails) with small complimentary snacks. “We do an Italian aperativo hour, our version of American happy hour, every Monday through Friday, from 3-6 pm. We feature popular Italian cocktails at discounted prices, we also discount our wine on tap and our well, and you get a complimentary small plate with purchase of a drink!” says Gessica. Wet your whistle with refreshing cocktails like Campari & Soda, Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco, soda, orange wedge), or their signature “Made in Italy” (vodka and crodino—Italian orange herbal soda); and wash it down with complimentary small plates like melon and prosciutto, or crostini with arugula and cherry tomatoes. *Clink* Italians are masters at la dolce vita, take advantage of this tradition any day of the week, post-work, pre-dinner.

Exciting changes are still in the works: a new menu for winter based on what is seasonally available at the market, a revamped patio featuring a secondary bar, and industry night highlighting local musicians. Plus the couple is expecting their first bambino—who perhaps one day might carry on the family tradition as a third-generation restaurateur!

Flour House is now accepting reservations for holiday parties, learn more at flourhouseslo.com.

Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo & Wine Country 
Holidays 201
6 · Issue 16