Because the Hacienda, the preserve’s dining room, a gorgeous adobe built in the 1920s, would be closed and he wouldn’t be preparing the typical roughly 80 dinners an evening, let alone cooking for several parties that had to be canceled, Regester took his girlfriend up on her invitation for a round of golf. But while out on the course, Regester tells me, he was distracted. He kept thinking about his kitchen that was full of food he’d planned to prepare. “I wasn’t enjoying myself. Having gotten away for a few hours, I realized that what I really wanted to do was something to help those who were helping us, those on the front lines fighting the fire, working in all that heat and smoke, up close to the flames.” Without finishing his golf game, Regester got back in his truck and returned to the preserve just as the fire was getting worse. e first meal he made for the fire crews and everyone who was working to get an upper hand on the blaze—from sheriffs to the road crew to the bulldozer operators—was a bouillabaisse. “I had all this fish in the refrigerator—clams, mussels, crab.” Word that dinner was on the way got around quickly. “I put this enormous pot in my truck and drove it up to the break room at the shop.” e firefighters helped carry the assorted pots and pans inside. Suddenly, there was a hungry crowd. By the third day, there was a line of people asking, “What are you making today, chef?” Each day, he’d open the fridge, look in the cupboards, grab what he was inspired by and begin to cook. Much of the food that’s prepared at the Hacienda comes from its acre-plus kitchen garden where there are the expected vegetables growing including various herbs, tomatoes, kale and lettuce but also the unexpected, such as a 7-foot-tall cardoon! When head gardener Nicky omas hears why I’m getting a tour of the garden, she says, “You can’t leave a chef standing around doing nothing!” Apparently not. Regester prepared ribs one day and butter bean with bacon soup another. He made various salads, garlic bread—food to soothe nerves and fill the stomachs of people working extremely hard in a treacherous 12 edible MONTEREY BAY WINTER 2016 environment. He tells me he likes to serve what’s fresh, that he shies away from freezing food. “ere was all this ricotta and fresh mozzarella,” he said, “so I made big pans of lasagna.” Chef Regester wasn’t the only one at the preserve cooking for the workers. Some of the homeowners who’d stayed made batch after batch of cookies. But since he was the only one in the kitchen, not only did Regester, who’s been at the preserve for two and half years, cook but he became chief bottlewasher as well, doing dishes and mopping the floors. Regester says, “All of us at the preserve felt an obligation to do what we could to hold the fire line so it wouldn’t go any farther.” Monterey County Regional Fire District Chief Michael Urquides tells me that all the workers enjoyed the meals: “A home-cooked meal goes a long way. ere wasn’t a thing that didn’t get eaten. It was all gobbled up.” Noting the deeper meaning that came come from eating well together, Urquides continues, “From a morale standpoint, it was tremendous. e firefighters, being away from home for so long, get used to eating rather repetitive meals, mostly sandwiches, prepared by vendors.” Regester’s food wasn’t only delicious; it didn’t just uplift morale and unify the community, concludes Urquides. “It was good for the workers’ health.” Reflecting back on that time, as we sit on the Hacienda patio on a cool morning, the effects of the fire visible only a short distance away, Regester tells me he felt better being useful. “I’m a chef. That’s my part of the puzzle. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I hadn’t been helping.” Monterey artist and author Patrice Vecchione’s latest book is Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life. For more, go to www.patricevecchione.com. RECIPE: See www.ediblemontereybay.com/recipes for the seafood bouillabaisse that Regester made for the firefighters.
edible Monterey Bay Winter 2016
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