U-T SD: Red Door is truly Farm-to-Table


Food Movement Grows Across Southern California

- Erinn Hutkin, Special to U-T San Diego 

Chef Karrie in her Element

As the owner of San Diego’s Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar, Trish Watlington is focused on offering customers food that’s locally grown.

And in many cases, that means offering meals made with produce from the eatery’s onsite garden.

Each year, the garden yields upward of 6,000 pounds of vegetables, everything from baby to giant beets, carrots and lettuce.

But she said the restaurant has also forged connections with local food producers, so much that the chef plans menus around what the garden and local farmers offer rather than creating a menu, and then finding a farm that has what’s needed.

In fact, she said, local farmers sometimes grow specifically for the eatery. A grower might say peaches are nearly ripe next week, which could lead to having peach cobbler added to the dessert menu.

Prompted by a growing movement to know where food is coming from, more consumers, both at restaurants and in their homes, offer support for farm-to-table eating. The concept isn’t new. It harkens back to the way people ate before microwaved, fast and processed food, but advocates of the movement say the benefits are bountiful. In addition to offering more nutrition, farm-to-table style eating supports local economies and can benefit the environment.

“I think it is a movement back to an earlier way of life. We would all be so much healthier if we grew some things of our own and just ate real food,” Watlington said. “We definitely don’t know enough about the pesticides and herbicides that are used in ‘conventional’ agriculture on factory farms. Our grandparents had it right — eat only what’s in season, grow what you can and buy what comes from places nearby.”

Executive chef Karrie Hills of the Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar prepares Rabbit Street Tacos in La Mesa, California. — Eduardo Contreras, U-T San Diego

Executive chef Karrie Hills of the Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar prepares Rabbit Street Tacos in La Mesa, California. — Eduardo Contreras, U-T San Diego

As the owner of San Diego’s Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar, Trish Watlington is focused on offering customers food that’s locally grown.  And in many cases, that means offering meals made with produce from the eatery’s onsite garden.

Each year, the garden yields upward of 6,000 pounds of vegetables, everything from baby to giant beets, carrots and lettuce.

But she said the restaurant has also forged connections with local food producers, so much that the chef plans menus around what the garden and local farmers offer rather than creating a menu, and then finding a farm that has what’s needed.

In fact, she said, local farmers sometimes grow specifically for the eatery. A grower might say peaches are nearly ripe next week, which could lead to having peach cobbler added to the dessert menu.

Prompted by a growing movement to know where food is coming from, more consumers, both at restaurants and in their homes, offer support for farm-to-table eating. The concept isn’t new. It harkens back to the way people ate before microwaved, fast and processed food, but advocates of the movement say the benefits are bountiful. In addition to offering more nutrition, farm-to-table style eating supports local economies and can benefit the environment.

“I think it is a movement back to an earlier way of life. We would all be so much healthier if we grew some things of our own and just ate real food,” Watlington said. “We definitely don’t know enough about the pesticides and herbicides that are used in ‘conventional’ agriculture on factory farms. Our grandparents had it right — eat only what’s in season, grow what you can and buy what comes from places nearby.”

In San Diego, there’s a range of definitions when it comes to restaurants that offer farm-to-table meals. But the common theme is to provide foods that are both local and organic, and buying ingredients directly from area farmers or at farmers markets, and serving them fresh to customers.

For some restaurants, Watlington said, farm-to-table means buying items from a local farm. For others, such as Red Door, it means using only produce that’s in season and grown by small farmers in Southern California, as well as humanely raised proteins and sustainably caught fish.