Grassroots dining at The Ecology Center

When people say farm-to-table, it isn’t always how I imagine it to be. After all, where else would restaurants be acquiring their ingredients from if not from a farm? But the steps in which it actually arrives to the table is another story in itself. This is why the meal events at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano are so incredibly meaningful because a farm-to-table meal here is really that — from the farm to the table.


I recently experienced the Tuscan Brunch of Late Summer Vegetables & Cook Pigs’ Pork ($55) by Chef Ryan Wilson of Five Crowns and SideDoor fame, and his wife Nikki who is currently at Studio at the Montage. We are welcomed by Evan Marks, Founder and Executive Director of The Ecology Center, who gives us background information of the meal we are about to embark upon. Included are the farms from which all the ingredients have been sourced from, mostly, within 100 miles of Orange County.

I loved the interactive nature of the brunch. We see Chef Nikki at the earthen oven baking the meal’s starters: Baskets of Lungo Bianco Squash Muffins and Fresh Tigelle which is served with cultured Butter whipped with OC Honey.

muffin and bread

Our primi course of Ribolita da Delfina of Summer Shelling Beans (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) is a perfect brunch item for everyone since it is vegetarian offering. The pattie is dotted with dandelion greens and pumpkin topped with runny fried eggs. The early girl tomatoes conserva brings an element of freshness to this hearty start.

ceci pattie

The secondi, or main course of the meal comes in the form of a duo of pork beginning with Porchetta da Panzano, which Chef Ryan has executed to perfection! The skin is crispy, while the meat is moist and well seasoned.


The second pork item was Salsiccia di Maiale (photo courtesy of Aubrey Devin) is a home-made sausage using Heritage pigs from Cook Pigs Ranch located 90 miles away in Julian.


Of course, a meal isn’t complete without some sides. Ceci Beans all’Uccelletto (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) is a chickpea gratin offering the ‘starch’ element of the meal.


Braised Greens (photo courtesy of Aubrey Devin) was possibly my favorite of the two sides, nicely wilted and a good complement to the porchetta.


In Italy, they eat salad after the entree, not before, so it was refreshing to see Chef Ryan stay true to the authenticity of the Italian brunch by serving Puntarelle (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) after the entree course.


We finished with Chef Nikki’s Marinated Champagne Grapes & Fresh Figs (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) served with a Californian zabaglione accompanied by fennel & almond biscotti. Zabaglione — or sabayon — is one of two desserts I adore so it isn’t surprising that I relished it completely. The use of seasonal grapes and figs creates a refreshing and light end to the meal.


The next food-related event at The Ecology Center will be “Fresh Holiday Cooking” on Nov 19th at 6pm. This Farm to Fork adult series of cooking classes emphasizes the journey real food takes from seed to plate—beginning with an exploration of the orchard, vegetable, and herb gardens, and ending with the preparation of a meal. For this event, Chef Linda Elbert will celebrate the holidays and give thanks to the garden! Learn skills, tools & techniques for preparing healthy Thanksgiving side dishes using fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden.

The Ecology Center
32701 Alipaz St
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Tel: 949-443-4223