Restaurant Highlight: Zola

“ The benefit of working directly with farms is that I’ll never run out of ideas or ingredient combinations…and now, I have a lot of really cool farmer friends.”

— Alfonso Marquez-Ramirez (Zola Chef)

photo courtesy of ZOLA Restaurant

photo courtesy of ZOLA Restaurant

The food scene is changing so rapidly in the Bay Area and one of our favorite practices we’ve been seeing more and more are direct partnerships with farms and restaurants. As farmers, it’s inspiring to work alongside local chefs who are passionate about working towards building more direct farm to restaurant partnerships.

This week we’re highlighting one of favorite restaurant partners, Zola Restaurant, nestled in the heart of Palo Alto. We’ve been working with Chef John Shelsta and his crew to provide seasonal and fresh ingredients for their vibrant and locally-inspired menu. The friendly folks over at Zola are stellar communicators, and furthermore amazing at what they do. Thank you Zola!

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process in building the menu for your restaurant? 

Our menu is built on what’s being grown by our network of small family farms. We get to work with some awesome farmers who give us access to their fields, and from that comes our unique way of approaching ingredients. 

Why is choosing locally grown an important aspect in sourcing ingredients for you? 

I like knowing where our produce is coming from and who's growing it. We are surrounded by the best farmers in California! Theres no excuse for me not to take advantage. In addition, I don’t feel a deeper connection with the produce that produce companies will sends. We exclusively source from small, organic, top notch family farms: Spade and Plow, Oya, Borba, Heirloom Organics, Muddy Boots, Country Rhodes, Serendipity, Green Thumb Organics, and Ourosboros to name a few.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience working directly with farmers? What are the hardest challenges and what are some of the benefits? 
I’ve been working directly with farmers since 2017 by helping out a friend who had been running a small buisiness driving out to farms and bringing produce back to restaurants that had placed orders the night before. I spent a year and four months meeting and working with the best farmers in our area and through that experience created the best version of a professional chef that I’ve ever been. I really wish more chefs were farm to restaurant direct driven instead of merely liking the idea. 

The hardest challenge for me working with farms is that there is always too much awesome stuff to choose from! The amount of goods at any given time during any season is overwhelming! Luckily, this means l never run out of ideas or ingredient combinations, and now I have a lot of really cool farmer friends.

What are some of your favorite items that Spade & Plow has been able to provide?
Our favorite Spade and Plow items are: green garlic, spring onions, artichokes, artichoke flowers, pea shoots, brocolli, romanesco, rainbow chard, salanova lettuces, nantes carrots, beets, and purple daikon radishes. We use a lot of your artichokes and carrots with our flounder in buerre blanc, but your produce is all over our menu.

Do you have a Spade & Plow inspired recipe you’d be willing to share with our readers?  
Yes! Spade and Plow creamed greens! You take your favorite spade and plow greens (kale, chard, and  pea shoots) and blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds to lock the green color in. Then, shock them in ice water. When the greens are cool, chop them up and set them aside. In another pot reduce cream, add your favorite cheese, and when the cheese melts add the greens back in. Lastly, season with salt and pepper. It’s awesome stuff!

Ian Thorp