Local chef focuses every day on farm to table
Posted on May 1, 2018
Cardiff-by-the-Sea native Coral Strong has a different pedigree than most of her cooking peers in San Diego — she’s entirely self-taught, inspired by a love of quality products grown in San Diego County. So much so, that in May 2015, she opened Garden Kitchen in the Rolando neighborhood, her temple to from-scratch, straight-from-the-earth cooking.
“Though I grew up in Cardiff, my parents moved us to Costa Rica when I was a teenager,” Strong recalls. “We temporarily lived in a motel while we were building a house, and the motel had a communal kitchen. All of the women in the kitchen were always cooking together, which I thought was really cool. It combined with what my mom did, always cooking everything from scratch. So I started to fall in love with food, becoming the natural person in the kitchen to help out, take charge, or just get things done.”
After returning to San Diego as an adult and meeting her husband, Strong also developed a love for fresh produce and a passion for eating locally, sustainably, and organically, explaining that he introduced her to organic farming and a wider world of vegetables through the use of a Community Supported Agriculture box from a local farm.
Her restaurant, which is still going, ahem, strong, three years after opening, is solely geared toward advancing this philosophy. “The menu changes basically every day or two, depending on what we’ve made for the day, how quickly it sells out, and what the farms are giving us,” Strong explains. “So, that has become my business model: I have farms in San Diego deliver to my restaurant throughout the week and that’s how I write my menu every day.” Currently, those farms include Wild Willow Farm, Dickinson Farm, Stehly Farms, Agua Dulce Farm, and, by proxy, Strong says, Be Wise Ranch Organic Farm through delivery from the other farms.
Overall, Strong expects the restaurant’s mission to speak for itself, growing by word of mouth. It’s a no-frills spot, with all dining taking place in a casual environment outside on the covered patio. But she knows what she’s doing is special. She prides herself most on “taking the level of organic, farm-fresh produce that I am getting on a daily basis and turning that over into a menu — we’re talking 95 percent of the menu comes right off of a farm within 25 miles,” Strong says. Now that is something to chew on. 619.431.5755, gardenkitchensd.com
Photography by Vincent Knakal