Lily Belli on food: Teen Kitchen Project celebrates 10 years, salmon week and why Lily’s pesto was almost the best

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… Grab your ticket now for the Teen Kitchen Project 10th Anniversary Celebration on October 1 at Everett Family Farm in Soquel. Since 2012, the local nonprofit has been teaching teens how to cook and work in a kitchen while preparing hundreds of thousands of meals for community members in need. To celebrate this milestone, teens participating in the program and guest chefs will serve a multi-course feast to Rich and Laura Everettfrom beautiful farm along Soquel Creek at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Executive Director of TKP Angela Farley tells me that the teens will create the starter salad and dessert, while the chef Diego Felix of the Fonda Felix and the Colectivo Felix, that I profiled last fallwill provide appetizer and chef Brad Briske from the Home restaurant will create the main dish and vegetable sides. All dishes will feature Everett Family Farms products. Tickets are $155.49 per person; make reservations here. Most of the 200 tickets have already been sold, says Angela, so don’t delay if you want to attend. All proceeds from ticket sales go directly to TKP’s dining program.

UCSC Seymour Center Salmon Week Poster

… The commercial season for California king salmon kicked off earlier this month, but there’s more to this fascinating fish than just its flavor. This week, UC Santa Cruz and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center are hosting the first ever Salmon Week, featuring a series of events that celebrate salmon. On Wednesday, visit the Seymour Center for the opening of an interactive exhibit on the Kelp Forest, an ecosystem that plays a vital role in the life cycle of salmon. On Thursday in the Seymour Center Boardroom, hear how the CZU Lightning Complex fires have affected our local endangered fish population at the premiere of the movie “Southern Range: Salmon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” On Friday, members of the Seymour Center are invited to join Eric Palkovacs, director of the Fisheries Collaborative Program, on a guided tour of the Scott Creek watershed, home to rainbow trout and coho salmon. Salmon Week culminates Saturday at the World Fish Migration Day Festival, a free, family-friendly event with food trucks, a salmon obstacle course, arts and crafts, where visitors can learn more about what is being done to protect our local fishery. Most events are free, but places are limited. See the full schedule at

Watch food & drink correspondent Lily Belli during the Mentone pesto-making contest

…Sunday I was one clove of garlic and a pinch of salt away from a free trip to Genoa, Italy, to enter the World Pesto Contest – that was the prize given to the chef from Paso Robles Jacob Burell, winner of the regional qualifications contested this weekend in Mentone. A few weeks ago I wrote this cook david kinch would welcome the Genovese chef and “Pesto King” Roberto Panizza in its restaurant Aptos for two special Ligurian dinners and the contest. Well, last week Chris Sullivan, general manager of Mentone, told me that there was an extra place in the pesto-making contest and invited me to participate. A few days later, I found myself lined up inside the restaurant with nine other contestants. We were all given the same seven traditional ingredients – basil leaves, coarse salt, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, parmesan and pecorino romano cheeses – and 20 minutes to make our best-o pesto with a mortar and a pestle.

Fortified by numerous YouTube videos and one of Mentone’s famous Aperol spritz slushies, I would love pesto like I’ve never made before. Before this weekend, I usually made pesto in a blender, which slices it all together, but after discovering how the pestle breaks down plant cells to release beautiful aromas and flavors, I’m never going back.

Chefs David Kinch (left) and Roberto Panizza, alongside Lily Belli of Lookout, judged the pesto contest

Chefs David Kinch (left) and Roberto Panizza, alongside Lily Belli of Lookout, judged the pesto contest in Mentone on Sunday.

(View of Santa Cruz)

Here are the tips I can now pass on:

First, pulverize the garlic and pine nuts until a paste forms, then stir in the tender basil leaves with a pinch of salt until the sauce is smooth and bright green. Add two parts sweet and nutty parmesan to one part funky and salty pecorino and finish with a little olive oil. Not too much! Kinch told me the key is to both use less garlic and oil and add more pine nuts than you think.

I’m proud to have finished third overall – I nailed the texture, but added a little too much salt and garlic. But what a wonderful afternoon with my cheering friends and family, enjoying tangerine-colored spritzes and the scent of basil leaves and garlic hanging in the air. Thanks Mentone! I’ll see you at the next game in two years — and I’ll be ready!

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The Kitchen Witch Gut Reset is a five-day cleanse of bone broth-based soups.

Santa Cruz-based Kitchen Witch Bone Broth announced last week that after eight years the company was ending production of its organic broths and soups. The cause of the shutdown isn’t changing consumer tastes or weak sales – it’s an international glass shortage that has plagued food businesses since the pandemic began. Kitchen Witch is committed to using only glass in its products for health and environmental reasons, co-founder Magali Brecke told me, and after two years the problem became untenable. Read more about the closure here.


35 – The number of Santa Cruz County food trucks and pop-ups in Lookout’s next food truck and pop-up guide…so far. Not a small number for an average sized county, but I bet I’m missing a few. I have scoured the internet and extracted my personal experiences, but I would need your help. Text or Email me your favorites before the guide is released next week.

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“More and more people recognize that vegan food is just good food. People see it less as something different and weird and something just delicious. — Owner of Sweet Bean Bakery Julie Danielwhich creates exceptional pastries, cakes and bagels without any animal products. Find out how Daniel perfected their croissant recipe and where to find their treats in Friday’s Eaters Digest.


My experience at the pesto contest over the weekend opened my eyes to the beauty of the mortar and pestle. I never really understood before why it was worth the effort and burning the biceps when the food processor exists, but as food scientist Kenji Lopez-Alt Explain, the pestle breaks up plant cells, releasing their natural flavors, juices and aromas, while a blender blade simply cuts them into small pieces. Plus, while it’s more effort, it’s also a lot more fun. Now all I can think of is buying my own mortar and pestle so I can gently emulsify the garlic and olive oil in a French aioli and finally make a fragrant Thai curry with the lemons Hanloh chef frozen makrut greens Lalita Kaewsawang gave me months ago. For those who are similarly converted – what other recipes are worth breaking out the mortar and pestle? tell me via text or write to me at [email protected].


… for “Are mushrooms socialist? Inside the mania on TikTok and beyond‘, the latest episode of ‘Extra Spicy’, the restaurant critic’s food podcast from the San Francisco Chronicle Sun Ho. Ho interviews TikTok mycologist Gordon Walker on what’s behind the mushroom craze. We’re no strangers to mushroom research in Santa Cruz County – the Santa Cruz Mushroom Federation has been active for over 40 years. It’s interesting to hear how the hobby is gaining popularity again and how community members are dealing with representation and conservation issues. Walker also shares his thoughts on a controversial topic: Should you cut or rip?


The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Downtown Santa Cruz in 2022 (San Jose Mercury News)
Black Restaurant Week returns to East Bay (Oaklandside)
Many of Monterey County’s hidden kitchens are culinary knockouts (Monterey County Weekly)

Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.

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