Food Straight from the source
By STARLA POINTER
Of the News-Register
CARLTON - Chef Lisa Lanxon starts preparing meals by going right to the source of the ingredients.
That means shopping farmers' markets, produce stands and farms themselves for whatever's in season at the moment. It means driving to Carlton Farms to pick up pork for that night's entrees. And it walking a few yards to her restaurant's own garden to harvest just-ripe summer squash or colorful Swiss chard.
"It's a huge privilege to work so close to the source of so many wonderful ingredients," said Lanxon, chef at the Cucina at Cana's Feast winery.
Lanxon does all the picking and shopping for the Cucina, which is open for lunch and dinner Fridays and Saturdays. It's also open for special events and wine country activities at other times; and will be one of the featured restaurants at Carlton's Walk in the Park, Saturday and Sunday, July 31-Aug. 1.
She keeps everything as local as possible because it makes for tastier, more nutritious food, she said. In addition, she believes in supporting small family farms.
Lanxon, who grew up on the East Coast, is a longtime believer in emphasizing local, seasonal, fresh ingredients. Her parents taught her that early, when they often planned menus around a visit to an orchard, farmers' market or fishing dock.
She became interested in cooking professionally when she was working as a waitress. "Things were so much more interesting in the kitchen," she said. "I was fascinated with the choreography of getting the food out."
She worked in restaurants, took classes, then took some time off when her twin sons were young. She returned to restaurants as a pastry chef. "That was too constraining," she said, recalling that when she returned to cooking meals "it was just so liberating."
Similarly, living in Oregon's Willamette Valley is freeing for cooks who want things fresh and local, because so much is available here, Lanxon said.
Still, the local emphasis means some constraints, in part because of the whims of the weather. This year, for instance, her usual July menus are on hold because tomatoes haven't ripened yet.
She's just starting to get local green beans. "It's thrilling!" she said.
She's also excited about exploring ways to prepare spigerella, a leafy vegetable that's something like a cross between kale and broccoli. It's one of several new varieties growing in the Cana's Feast garden this year.
Lanxon plans the Cucina menus and leads the staff in from-scratch preparations that are Mediterranean inspired - which means, she said, "exercising restraint." "We want to keep food in the purest form," she said.
Her menus also are tailored for pairing with Cana's Feast wines, of course. Right now, she said, the winery is pouring a Cunoise that goes perfectly for summer dishes and a Rosato, a sort of Italian ros, that's light and crisp and also pairs well with hot-weather menus.
For Walk in the Park, Laxton is planning an all-vegetarian menu. Offerings will include fresh-baked foccacia; roasted tomato, basil and goat cheese panino; a cheese plate featuring cow-, goat- and sheep-milk cheese; and a shaved zucchini salad with pine nuts, basil and shaved parmesan. She also will offer bittersweet chocolate cookies for dessert.
"It's a simple menu, incredibly good and light, for when it's hot," she said.
She said she enjoys Walk in the Park and other events that allow her to meet diners and talk to them about the Cucina at Cana's Feast.
The Cucina is growing in popularity as more people discover it at Walk in the Park, while wine tasting or on the recommendation of local B&B owners. Once they've visited, they often make reservations to return, Lanxon said.
"People seem to really, really enjoy what we do here," she said, "and I love feeding people."