Breakfast in the Barn with Chefs Pascal Olhats & Gregory Moro
Have you ever romanticized about sharing a delicious, freshly-harvested meal with friends in a rustic setting while learning from the chef himself how everything came to be? It doesn't have to be a dream. The Original Manassero Farms in Irvine have made it a reality with their "Breakfast in the Barn" series that started in May 2014. On designated Saturday mornings, guests can feast at the farm on dishes inspired by the farm produce and put together by award-winning Orange County chefs; not only do they taste what delights the chefs have in store but the breakfast diners also learn along the way how to reproduce these simple but fulfilling items. We were invited to attend the July event and enjoyed an informational and delectable time with the month's chefs - Chef Pascal Olhats and Chef Gregory Moro.
It was the perfect day for a morning out among the worn wooden planters of farm life. The entrance led us through their small functioning marketplace and winding between bountiful, tall stalks of fresh herbs. A large tent accommodating nearly 50 guests at plaid-tableclothed picnic tables and benches was the haven for the cooking demonstration led that morning by Chefs Pascal and Greg. As they warmed up, we picked at fresh sliced breads from OC Baking Company, slathered with butter or Manassero Farms strawberry jam. The series itself will always have Chef Pascal at every event but with a different co-chef each time, giving variety to series and letting fans (or potential fans) partake in watching whichever chef they enjoy most.
For this event, we learned from Chef Greg who is the Chef de Cuisine of Nieuport 17 in Tustin and was formerly the Executive Chef at Laguna Beach’s French 75. He earned his culinary degree at the California Culinary Academy, and has worked at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. We have actually done an exclusive interview before (linked here) on Chef Greg and his journey to where he is now! The brunch attendees seemed quite exciting to see what he had up his sleeve for our weekend-hungry stomachs.
As aforementioned, the event took place at the Manassero Farms located in Irvine. It was started by Dan Manassero (whose wife, Anne, joined us that morning), a third-generation farmer whose family came from Italy. His grandfather began farming in Orange County in 1922 so the lifestyle was not new to Dan. He joined his father and uncle at their farm during his high school years before deciding that it was time to begin his own. Manassero Farms was born in 1976 and initially flourished because it had the ripest, juiciest strawberries around. We could see the care that Farmer Dan put into his farm from what crops we could see from our vantage points. The produce at the marketplace area was beautiful as well, highlighting the wonders that our California summer season can bring us. There was even a great section that was in progress labeled "Pascal's Jardin," an area where produce for Pascal's multiple restaurants will come from. The chef even joked about his French scarecrow out in the field which was much more amusing to us than intimidating.
Our first course of the breakfast was one that utilized contemporary culinary methods. It was entertaining as Chef Greg explained his process because the curious Chef Pascal would often ask questions that the audience might have been too shy to ask. His reason for this was an endearing, "I don't do it that way. It's a new generation of chef so I want to learn too." We learned how chefs break down large round fruits/produce when Chef Greg deftly and swiftly excavated the most yield from a watermelon rind that one might be able to get. We also became privy to his technique of infusing flavors inside of fruits via food saver vacuum sealer (tip: make sure the bag lip is dry when sealing), one that allows porous items to become compressed and infused with whatever juices are in the bags as they are forced into the pores. Examples given were honeys, syrups, and other juices.
The dish that morning was a riff on a classic caprese salad with nearly all of the ingredients substituted for something else. Instead of tomatoes, we tried mimosa-infused watermelon cubes which were made with the technique written above. Instead of fresh mozzarella, a honey and basil whipped goat cheese served for the dairy component. This was made using fresh goat cheese and heavy cream which was whipped together before being seasoned with salt, pepper, honey, and basil. Chef Greg then demonstrated how to expertly plate a dish (use the back of a spoon to create a swirl on the plate) while Chef Pascal taught us about the potency and usefulness of herbs' flowers such as the concentrated, strong basil flower. Most of the guests had several questions not only about the cooking techniques used but just overall food knowledge; it was refreshing to see such genuine interest in all parts of the process!
The next dish created had several components that required some instruction and unveiling of efficient tips and tricks. We enjoyed heaping plates of roasted beet and mixed greens salad dressed with bacon shallot vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp bacon pieces, roasted chopped hazelnuts, buttered toast, and a poached egg. One of the fascinating tips most of the guests "ohhhh"ed about was how to easily remove a beet's skin (roast it for hours and then furiously rub it off!). These interjections between the actual cooking when Chef Greg shared his personal time-saving techniques were great ways for people to learn how to take their home-cooking to the next level. Without much delay, this second plate was all set and ready to go; we laughed at the witty and comedic remarks from Chef Pascal as he let Chef Greg cook and then enjoyed his own expert plating once we received our own portions.
As if that was not enough food for one summer morning, Anne Manassero herself wanted to share one of her favorite food items that morning as well. We tried out some pancakes made with a whole-grain mix that is sold in the marketplace but not many other places in Orange County. It had a rougher texture than typical pancakes because of its whole-grain make-up but was a lovely way to end the meal; they were not too large or heavy of pancakes. All in all, what a fun way to spend a Saturday morning! The July event we visited was the third in the series but there are more to sign up for on the Manassero Farms website, and I highly encourage that you do register. Tickets are an inexpensive $25 per person and well-worth the value. There was also plenty of time afterward to speak with the chefs, as I saw many guests do with their own questions, so make sure to get all of your own curiosities answered after the demonstrations. Great job to the team as well for their entertaining and educational session!
Photography by Duc Duong. Photos available on Facebook here.