Back of the House: Thomas Hill Organic Kitchen
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 part 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