Eating is a necessity of life, so it follows that as much as possible, we ought to make this a daily pleasure – and the experience should have a sense of place. The Monterey Peninsula is a daily source of inspiration and creativity for Chef Cal and his team. The enduring scenic appeal of the entire region is indisputable. This is Steinbeck country, and like the author, “I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.”
Monterey, California’s first capitol, sprawls alongside its eponymous bay, a national marine sanctuary that draws tourists from around the world. From Fisherman’s Wharf, to Cannery Row (setting of Steinbeck’s famous novel of the same name), to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the town’s past and present are inextricably linked to the sea. Sandwiched in between is the exclusive community of Pebble Beach, perched on a jutting peninsula of windswept cypresses and legendary golf courses. A dozen miles south on a justifiably famous stretch of coastline you’ll find Big Sur, with its giant redwoods, towering sea cliffs and secluded beaches, the epitome of the laid-back, California lifestyle. Yet another famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, called Big Sur “the most magnificent meeting of land and sea” and if you’ve been there, you know why.
While no place is perfect, some approach perfection and Carmel Valley epitomizes this. The placid cobalt skies, seemingly perpetual sunshine, verdant fields and forests, and undulating vineyards and ranches offer a peace of mind that is both seductive and increasingly rare.
Fifty years ago pear orchards flourished throughout the valley. Today, these are a distant memory, having given way to smaller ranches and vineyards. Carmel Valley wine country, although not as well known, rivals its illustrious neighbors in Napa and Sonoma. Smaller in geographical area, from the start it attracted innovative winemakers intent on producing premium wine. The wineries and vineyards are tiny by Napa or Sonoma standards, but there are fewer tasting rooms, less commercialism and less people. Unlike its larger counterparts north of San Francisco, and despite sky rocketing property values, Carmel Valley remains a rustic, rural area that retains its symbiotic relationship with the land. It offers the best of country living with its casual sprawl of horse farms, orchards, olive groves, cattle ranches, vegetable and flower farms, and of course, vineyards. Much of the region is still rugged wilderness, and the hills are alive with mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, wild boars, foxes and eagles. It is a real, working valley, its ranching and agricultural roots still very much in evidence.
Despite the abundance of wonderful raw materials in Chef Cal’s backyard, his menus depend on ingredients from other regions of the country too, such as lobsters from Maine, lamb from Colorado and truffles from France. The point is that there’s great food all around us in this country, and he hopes to inspire each of his guests to seek out that quality of terroir, to discover what is remarkable in their own corner of the world.