A Community Kitchen Simmers in Goleta
Crookston and Gomez Open Goodland Kitchen
In some ways, it might seem as if the new Goodland Kitchen and Market has a Tom Sawyer “come paint my fence” scam going, what with interns signing up for 10-hour-a-week shifts for 10 weeks and no pay. But when Sawyer’s fence was finished, there is little doubt it failed to taste as good as the food at Goodland. And Sawyer’s friends probably didn’t then go off with their new wealth of knowledge to better the world, for as the Goodland’s Web site reads, interns “learn how the food choices they make on a day-to-day basis affect their local community.”
“Really established restaurant people were a little more skeptical of where we are and what we were doing,” said Julia Crookston, one of the co-owners, of their Old Town Goleta shop, “but 95 percent of the people say, ‘Where have you been?’” Co-owner Melissa Gomez asserted, “The quality of the food we’ve been preparing would be very different without the people wanting to get involved on a volunteer basis. But in turn, they’re learning business skills, project management, and culinary craftsmanship.”
Crookston and Gomez believe they might be just the fifth community-supported kitchen in the country; perhaps the biggest is San Francisco’s La Cocina—that’s the charity Traci Des Jardins is cooking for on Top Chef Masters. But unlike the nonprofit La Cocina, Goodland Kitchen is out to rethink economic models. “We’re going to have a sustainable, profitable business,” Crookston said. “We want to prove it’s viable—that you can go happily to the bank, and happily pay off your farmers, and that you can have a good life without having to be corporatized or franchised.”
While their grab-and-go (there’s just one table because of little parking and zoning laws) food is quick, it’s far from usual fast-food fare. “If fast food is the default, you just go because it’s fast, not because it’s good,” Crookston explained. “But we want to be able to do that, too.” And they do, largely because they start with fine regional ingredients, including produce from the Farmers Markets. That means your avocados will sing on your sandwich; the carrots in the carrot salad will taste and not just be orange. “The menu was written so it can shift every day,” Gomez pointed out. “On the sesame noodle salad, the vegetables are listed as ‘seasonal.’ That’s all we promise. That way the core menu can stay the same.”
Gomez and Crookston were introduced by Heather Hartley, one of the organizers of last October’s SOL Festival, and quickly realized they had a shared dream. That synchronicity even extended to the menu: “Julia said she wanted to do a mezze plate,” Gomez remembered, “and I told her, ‘Wait, I did, too’ … I didn’t even think most people knew what one was.” (Theirs is a delight with hummus, olives, grilled veggies, and a lovely feta-sundried tomato mix.)
“When we met, Julia was doing the preserving for Tom Shepherd, and I was doing it at Fairview Gardens,” Gomez said, and instead of saying more, she just holds out both her hands and entwines her fingers. She continued, “It didn’t make sense for me to compete with Julia, so I courted her. We have very different skills. She has 30 years of experience as a chef, and I don’t. But I have a master’s in management.”
The two have both since come to rely on Naomi Serizawa, who will eventually take over Crookston’s job as lead chef in the kitchen so Crookston can focus on her preserves. “Can you imagine where we’d be without her?” Gomez asked Crookston, but she answers her own question, “We’d be crying every single day.” Crookston added, “She understands my vision and Melissa’s vision for the food, so we’re fine … plus I’m here sticking my nose in every day.”
Another crucial part of Goodland’s mission is renting out commercial kitchen space. That not only helps pay their rent, but also helps out small-batch food producers (like tenants IxCacaco Brownies and Local Harvest Delivery). “We can have our vision of fun, sustainable, and delicious,” Crookston said, “but we can’t forget the business end.”
If you visit, however, it’s not the business end you’ll remember; it’ll be a fantastic salad or sandwich or soup. Or perhaps Crookston’s granola, which they were baking when we did this interview, and which filled the building with homey aromas, definitely making me like Goodland all the more.
Discover all the good at Goodland Kitchen and Market (231 S. Magnolia Ave., Old Town Goleta. 845-4300, goodlandkitchen.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 7am-2:30pm).