Mendocino’s Ravens Restaurants’ Co-Creative Vegan Cuisine

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog. 

Potato, fennel, kale soup. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Too many cooks spoil the broth, doesn’t hold true at Stanford Inn’s Ravens Restaurant.

The cook, the gardener, the nutritionist, the proprietor, and the kitchen staff all join in to co-create the vegan cuisine at Mendocino’s eco-friendly lodge.

On my recent visit to Northern California’s wine country I had some amazing meals, but  what’s been memorable is the food at Ravens. And one word says it all – delicious.

A plate of freshly baked yummy vegan cookies welcomed me in my room overlooking the organic vegetable garden. Walking into the Inn’s lobby was like entering a book store – tables stocked with vegan and holistic books. Here I met with Jeff Stanford who runs this paradisiacal retreat with his wife Joan.

Stanford Inn's organic vegetable garden. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

We get a table with a view of the flower-filled garden. While Jeff filled me in on his restaurant’s philosophy, I savored the potato, fennel, kale soup followed by Dos Tacos Biologicos – masa tortillas topped with green chili, crimini mushrooms, pepitas and shredded cabbage drizzled with pico de gallo and crème frâiche. Dishes at Ravens arrive garnished with edible flowers and creamy, luscious sauces are made from silky tofu, soy milk or cashew nuts. The following night dinner included warm spinach salad tossed with Verjus thyme dressing and sprinkled with shitake bacon, toasted walnuts, and butternut squash ravioli served with braised greens and roasted criminis.

The Inn’s sommelier Brandon McGuigan introduced me to a couple of Mendocino County wines – a fragrant gerwürztraminer from Lazy Creek Vineyards (amongst the region’s pioneering winery) and a silky pinot noir from Black Kite (an artisanal wine with 1500 case annual production).

As the Inn’s proprietor, Jeff’s message is quite simple – to provide guests with excellent food that’s healthy and ethically and environmentally sustainable. Although Jeff grew up in Kansas City, he was introduced at an early age to eastern philosophies and teachings of Krishnamurthi by his father.

“The truth is that I’m causing suffering and you act from there,” said Jeff whose journey to vegetarianism started with meditation practice. His motto now is “for love of animals and earth.”  All the produce for the Ravens restaurant comes from Stanford’s own USDA certified organic farm and from the nearby Big River Nurseries. Food wastes are composted and we recycle everything possible, explained Jeff. The organic garden is lush with over hundred different vegetables including quinoa, rainbow chard, artichokes and a variety of herbs.

Portobello's instead of eggs as Benedict on house made English muffin with spinach topped with silky tofu Hollandaise sauce and country style sweet potatoes. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

During my two-day stay I enjoyed breakfast dishes that included a savory tofu Frittata baked with sun dried tomatoes, spinach and wild mushrooms garnished with sour cream made from tofu; and Portobello Benedict – house made English muffins topped with mushrooms and spinach, drizzled with vegan Hollandaise, served with grilled tomatoes and country style sweet potatoes.

Besides, the focus on healthy eating, the Inn offers daily yoga and Qi Gong classes to the guests. Ravens also hosts interns from culinary schools across the country, many of whom end up as Ravens’ staff.  The Stanford’s mission is very clear – to foster a generation of young chefs committed to environmental and ethical values.