Monterey County is the birthplace of the “farm-to-fork” boom, in part because of its year-round growing season. It is also one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Wine & Travel Destinations for 2013.
“We’re considered the salad bowl capital of the world, which means lettuce, greens, spinach, produce, artichokes, herbs, mushrooms and berries are grown year-round here in Monterey County,” says Jerry Diaz, meeting sales executive at Monterey County CVB.
According to Diaz, most of the food events he attends in the area share the mileage of where the food came from, and most of it is grown just 20 to 30 miles away.
“Everything is uber fresh, and you always encounter executive chefs who love living here and going nuts in terms of creativity,” Diaz says. “Most of the menus are changed daily.”
Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley is particularly known for its culinary offerings. An onsite winery and vineyard pavilion are surrounded by 300 live oak trees mixed in with the 220-acre vineyard. Chef Cal Stamenov at Marinus restaurant has a 2-acre onsite garden full of fresh herbs, vegetables and a variety of indigenous tomatoes. Up to 12 attendees can taste them in the wine cellar with over 1,800 labels.
One of the best ways for groups up to 12 people to experience the area’s bounty is via Ag Venture Tours. Owned by Evan Oakes, an agricultural scientist, the company offers an agricultural education tour that takes guests to observe field harvesting, irrigation, planting and organic farming.
According to Diaz, “Everyone in the Central Coast knows and loves him” for his behind-the-scenes access to so many vineyards. Diaz says groups should work with Oakes to create a farm-to-fork dinner on the very land the food is grown.
For a post-meeting bite, Portola Hotel & Spa has some new F&B offerings that include a “phenomenal happy hour,” says Diaz, with champagne flights and sustainably raised oysters available at Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge.
New to the nearby Carmel food scene, Vesuvio offers a Mc-Suvio “adult happy meal” including a cheeseburger, fries and a Jack and coke.
The 30,000-sf Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove sits within 107 acres of beachfront filled with rustic cottages. At the new Phoebes Cafe, grab some local wine and cheese to enjoy on the outdoor deck facing the ocean.
Groups can make their way a bit further south to Big Sur, where the Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant hosts groups up to 200 among the area’s redwood forests. Opt for a backyard barbecue of ribs, brisket and chicken. Or grab a seat literally in the river, where wooden chairs and tables are set up so guests can dangle their feet in the water.
Lastly, Diaz highly recommends Earthbound Farm Organic’s Farm Stand in Carmel. He says planners can create almost any type of program in which attendees can pick organic produce with the chefs who prepare it in the cooking pavilion. Groups should also spontaneously visit one of the various farmers markets and stands along Highway 1, which are always filled with delicious treats to inspire a menu.
Diaz says, “Any time of year at the farmers market there’s something to pull from and prepare.