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[whitespace] Prep Time: Eric Carter instructs student Lily Hulme in the fine art of cooking.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Chef Wars

Our own Robert Morris takes on Charlie Trotter in the Battle of the Chefs

By Janet Blaser

BY THE TIME you read this, I will have worked myself into a tizzy trying to prepare for my role as kitchen helper in tomorrow night's Battle of the Chefs between our own Robert Morris of Blacks Beach Cafe and the internationally famous Charlie Trotter of Chicago. The two former schoolmates have maintained a friendly but fierce competitive spirit for some years now, meeting each other all over the world to cook together, usually under the cloak of some charity fundraiser. Thursday's sold-out dinner is a benefit for the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz.

Seems that Trotter was coming to this neck of the woods anyway (he and Morris will be cooking at the annual Masters of Food and Wine in Carmel this weekend), and Morris persuaded (or goaded) him to be part of this event. The two will spar as they each prepare their respective parts of the six-course meal, while yours truly attempts to meekly cut beets in one corner of the newly renovated kitchen at Blacks Beach. Randall Graham will pour specially selected wines. Expect lots of one-upmanship, plenty of spirit, pig's feet included in at least one dish (Trotter's signature), and a truly fine meal. And although you may be unable to attend in person, Community TV is working on filming the whole shebang. I'll keep you informed.

College Cuisine

So, I ask you. Is our town full of more secrets than the average seaside resort town in California? Because I have another to add to the list: the Pino Alto room at the Sesnon House in Aptos, a satellite, if you will, of the Cabrillo College Culinary Arts program. There you can enjoy a gourmet meal which, according to instructor Eric Carter, rivals that of any fine-dining restaurant in the county. Big words? Perhaps. But reserve judgment until you experience it first-hand: the attention to detail, the tangible dedication of the student staff, the exquisitely expert service and ambiance.

Think about it: Everything these students are doing is part of their grade, all watched over by the expert and demanding eyes of Sue Slater and Carter, who between them have many, many years of kitchen expertise. (Eric puts on another hat next week at the annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off, where he'll be a judge.) Nothing comes out of those swinging kitchen doors that isn't exactly what it's supposed to be.

And because this is a community college, the "students" are not all twentysomethings with lots to learn. Eric says these students who have made it to the advanced class are all ages and come from all walks of life. Located in the historic Sesnon House across from the main campus on Soquel Drive, the Pino Alto ("tall pine") dining room is a sweet and cozy corner of the house. The spotless kitchen used to be a garage and is now everything a commercial kitchen should be: gleaming stainless steel, convection ovens, a big walk-in, separate pantry for baking and ample storage room.

Dinner, served Tuesday through Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30pm, includes your choice of four entrees (meat, seafood, poultry and vegetarian), soup and salad, and an intermezzo sorbet, all for $10-$15. Appetizers and desserts are available, too, as are a good selection of wines, donated by local wineries like Bonny Doon, Roudon-Smith, Devlin and David Bruce. The cuisine changes every few weeks. Upcoming are: Italian, Feb. 29-March 9; contemporary American, March 14-23; and Pacific Rim, March 28-30. Lunch is also served, noon-1:30pm, Monday-Thursday. Again, prices are more than reasonable ($5-$6) for your choice of three hot entrees, soup and salad. Call 479.6524 for all the pertinent details.

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From the February 23-March 1, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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