What began as a modest garden nestled among avocado and lemon trees at Catalina View Gardens has evolved into splendid culinary offerings at Terranea that are a local salute to sustainability. Vice President of Culinary Experiences and Executive Chef Bernard Ibarra has had a love affair with the earth and the sea since his childhood near San Sebastián, Spain, and his reverence for nature’s gifts has been a mainstay of his life and his career. With his contagious adventurous spirit, he has opened community doors and inspired the Terranea team to embrace his passion for both farm-to-table and sea-to-table programs at the resort.
Growing fresh produce was naturally at the forefront of Chef Ibarra’s vision. Much to his delight, an off-property garden took root in the fall of 2013 after a chance conversation with Rancho Palos Verdes landowner and farmer Jim York.
“Mr. York was having dinner at mar’sel the first time we met. When we talked, we realized that we shared a passion for farming. By the end of our conversation, he offered some of his land for Terranea to use for a garden,” he recalls.
Chef Ibarra bought seeds and plants from nearby nurseries and planted tomatoes, leeks, lettuces, chili peppers and herbs. During the first year he personally cared for the garden in between his regular resort responsibilities.
“One day I forgot to turn the water off before returning to Terranea. When I went back and discovered a small lake, I realized that I needed help,” he says with a smile.
Other chefs were recruited from his staff, and in 2015 a special projects position was created for sous chef Blake Hale to oversee the garden. Kale, strawberries, onions, potatoes, eggplant, squash and more greens were added to the original crops. Beekeeping was implemented for pollination purposes, which not surprisingly evolved into Chef Ibarra donning a beekeeper’s suit and tending to over 120,000 bees.
With the farm-to-table program established, Chef Ibarra soon set his sights on bringing more than fish from the sea to the resort’s tables. He began to collect water from the ocean for in-house sea salt production, which led to the official inauguration of the resort’s salt conservancy on Earth Day in April 2015.
Roughly 300 pounds of nutrient-rich salt are now produced each year—some of which is infused with Meyer lemons, sage, rosemary, pinot noir wine and strawberries. It is used in cooking for special events like monthly Sea Salt Workshops, gifts in VIP welcome packages, salting margaritas and is for sale at sea beans.
While gathering saltwater, Chef Ibarra was always mindful of the kelp at his feet. “Like anyone who goes to the beach, I used to pick up things without giving it much thought—as I did with kelp a while ago,” he says. “We buy kelp and seaweed from suppliers, and it suddenly occurred to me to harvest it as food from the beach below the resort. One day last summer I took a bucket and filled it with kelp, and I took it to the salt conservatory where I washed it and dried it. It looked great and smelled like the ocean!”
After the kelp was dry, Chef Ibarra decided it would be great to use for fish stock and cooking. Then, according to him, a “kelp angel” suddenly crossed his mind.
“I wondered if I should check to see if what I was doing was OK. So I called the Department of Fisheries in Sacramento, and I was surprised to learn that you must have a permit to harvest kelp,” he explains. “When I heard that, it felt as if I was on the freeway and slamming on the brakes!”
He continues, “A fisheries representative explained to me how kelp is a very important part of the ecosystem. When I responded that it was already broken and lying on the beach, I was told that there is a distinct purpose for it … such as food or a home in the natural world. That is when I realized that we humans do things that we think are right because it suits us. But in reality, that is not true. The kelp gave me an additional level of respect for the sea and nature.”
Terranea’s permit is expected in 2018. When it is finalized, Chef Ibarra is looking forward to using kelp for seasoning in savory and sweet dishes, to jellify ingredients, for bread-making, in vegan recipes and eventually for spa treatments. “It is very rich in iodine, so cooking with it not only makes a great seasoning but it also makes a dish healthier. There is no limit to what we can do with kelp creatively!”
Chef Ibarra is always exploring ways to expand Terranea’s already rich sustainability program. Six chickens recently joined the Terranea family and took up residence at the nearby Catalina View Gardens. The flock was a gift from a local family and is comprised of three Rhode Island Reds, one Australorp, and two Orpington chickens; they are named Parmesan, Fricassee, Chicken Little, Chick-a-dee, Benedict and Chicklet.
There are plans to triple the size of the flock by summer. The eggs are used for special dishes at Nelson’s and mar’sel and are offered as an in-room dining option.
Given his Spanish roots, it was simply a matter of time before Chef Ibarra’s culinary journey included olives. In 2017 the Terranea chefs rolled up their sleeves and assisted with a full day of harvesting five varietals of olives (Frantoio, Moraiolo, Amfissa, Leccino and Manzanillo) at a local orchard owned by the Bizoumis family for the resort’s first olive oil production.
The olives were cleaned and crushed on-site by a Temecula-based commercial company with traveling machinery and presses. A limited production yielded 20 gallons of olive oil for the resort.
“No chemicals or pesticides are used to grow the olives. Instead the trees are sprayed with clay that encases the fruit to keep the pests away, as it was done in the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. The olive groves are beautiful, and the white trees look like a Christmas photo!” exclaims Chef Ibarra.
The oil is flavored with herbs, Meyer lemons, pink peppercorns and smoke and is offered at special events and, like the sea salt, is for sale at sea beans.