FARM FOCUS: Chef Cameron Ingle is elevating the concept of farm-to-table at Pico in Los Alamos, and one day hopes to buy his own property to raise chickens and grow veggies from heirloom seeds. | Credit: Steven Woodfield

If you choose the $75, eight-course tasting menu at the Pico restaurant in the Los Alamos General Store, prepare to dine through experiential waves of flavor, a young chef’s impeccable techniques, and, perhaps for some, a psychological reckoning. Each dish is intentionally simple, as Chef Cameron Ingle limits each offering to just four ingredients, all found within a 60-mile radius. Unless you actually grew up on a farm, you may leave Pico questioning everything you understood about the farm-to-table movement that’s been sweeping the world for years now. 

By now, most food-interested Americans think of ruby-red heirloom tomatoes, multi-hued hen eggs, and ranch-designated cuts of meat when the term “farm-to-table” is uttered. But for Ingle, such expected items aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. Yes, we’re also talking about lettuce, as Ingle recently highlighted reine de glaces, the “queen of ice” crisphead lettuce from a French strain dating back to the 1800s. 

Credit: Steven Woodfield

By diving deeper into such varieties of produce and proteins, Ingle hopes to fill in what’s missing from the common “farm-to-table” formula. While you’ll find traditional cuts of meat and veggies on Pico’s à la carte menu, the tasting experience aims to showcase bites that you’ve never before seen plated. A recent visit, for instance, featured cuts from a whole pig that Ingle acquired from Winfield Farms in Buellton and potatoes from Santa Maria’s LOV Farms, which uses seeds from Cornell University plant breeder Michael Mazourek’s company Row 7.  

Ingle gets particularly geeky about seeds. Many of them are crossings specifically bred for certain qualities, some were originally used by Indigenous peoples across North America, and most are aimed to give humans more effective vitamin absorption. One example is the bi-color purple sweet corn rather un-affectionately named “Seed 108” that Ingle worked into a vegan “creamed” corn. Those Row 7 potatoes, meanwhile — known as “NY-150” or, slightly more romantically, “Upstate Abundance” — were developed especially for their texture, and Ingle made the evening’s pancetta from Mangalitsa wooly pigs, Winfield’s specialty breed. 

Credit: Steven Woodfield

Having worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa, and both Bavel and Bestia in Los Angeles, Ingle’s résumé reveals his methods and motivations. But his cooking style is most influenced by Dan Barber. The chef and author has already won most of the world’s culinary awards, largely for his work at Blue Hill at Stone Barns just north of New York City, where Ingle served as part of a resident chef program. Barber has written books about seed origins, warning against companies like Monsanto who threaten genetic diversity and overall nutrition of vegetables, and was heavily involved in President Barack Obama’s council on health and nutrition.

Despite that top chef pedigree, Ingle’s start in the culinary world came from far more humble beginnings. In 2001, at just 12 years old, he was doing inventory for an Italian steakhouse in his hometown of Plymouth, Michigan, a town of about 10,000 people located between Detroit and Ann Arbor. “They put me in the basement, counting straws,” he recalled. “That’s how I started.” 

He was thrown on the salad station at 13, dicing up tomatoes for the New Year’s Eve menu. “It became my first night actually on the line cooking,” he said. “And looking back on it, I’ve literally never had a job other than cooking since then.” Though he left his home state long ago, he’s still a fan, explaining, “I’m still in love with Michigan, and think I always will be.” 

New York was equally formative for Ingle, who was on the Blue Hill at Stone Barns staff in 2019 when the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars. “Unless you have been at a restaurant that has received that, or gotten it yourself, you will never understand the feeling — it’s insane,” said a grinning Ingle, whose face lights up when remembering those days. “It’s the clearest validation of your skillset, of all your hard work, and what you have dedicated your time and energy to. It’s the greatest feeling ever.” 

Credit: Steven Woodfield

He considers the Michelin Guide as the benchmark, and is very aware that Bell’s brought a Michelin star to Los Alamos, just down the block from Pico. But while the Guide now knows about this tiny town, its stars are not the be-all, end-all for Ingle, who admits that it can also deter young chefs. 

“Putting our feet to the fire is the reason why we got two stars at Blue Hill,” he said. “It became fun to push ourselves to the limit. Most people say they want to, but once they start performing at the Michelin level, they realize, ‘Wow, this is terrible.’ It’s way too much pressure, it’s intense, it’s hot, and if you are working there just because you need a job, then you’re not going to last.”

There’s Michelin potential at Pico, but there’s a much more cohesive vision for Ingle, who is looking to buy property nearby. “I’ll farm in the mornings and then come here and cook at night,” he said. “The team will learn the land, and they’ll be happy, too. I want stability for them. My biggest thing is for the team to be happy. We’re making good food for the people. I think that is overall more important than chasing stars.” 

He’s invested in building something long-term. “I want to invest in the community here, turn that land into a farm,” the 33-year-old said of that dream, before excitedly describing how he’d do a quarter of the property in chickens, half in veggies, and then set aside space for kids to come learn about farming, much like how the Los Alamos Library runs a day camp.

“If I build it, they will come,” Ingle said confidently. “This area has so much opportunity. I can’t sit back and order things from a produce company. This area was built on farming and ranching, and I am going to honor that. ” 

458 Bell St., Los Alamos; (805) 344-1122;

Credit: Steven Woodfield

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