Foodie Paradise: Sonoma County's Relish Culinary Adventures Celebrates Local California Cuisine

In her green-built teaching kitchen among Sonoma County’s farms, vineyards and artisan food shops, Donna del Rey builds community while indulging people’s culinary passions.

| September/October 2010

“You buy a pig at the fair or from your neighbor, or you find locally made cheese at the farmer’s market, or someone up the road’s making olive oil. We have apples in Sebastopol, mushrooms in the forests, and lavender in the mountains. You can go to the coast and buy salmon from someone who just caught it.”
—Donna del Rey, Relish Culinary Adventures 

Donna del Rey was in her element when her family moved from San Francisco to the heart of Sonoma County wine country 12 years ago. A longtime foodie, del Rey loved the small organic farms and sustainable wineries near her home in Healdsburg and the plethora of local olive oils, cheeses and breads she found at the market. She was surprised, however, that she had to drive an hour to find a cooking class in a region so rich in food culture.

Relish Culinary Adventures was del Rey’s answer to that gap. In 2003, she began offering gastronomic events that bring together food lovers, just-picked ingredients, and talented chefs and teachers at Healdsburg-area farms, vineyards, forests, restaurants and private kitchens. Celebrating local cuisine is “easy to do here,” del Rey says. “Eating locally isn’t a trend; this is how we live.”

Last September, del Rey created a culinary tour for 20 New Yorkers. “They came to spend five days eating and drinking their way through Sonoma County,” she says.

Sonoma County’s culinary bounty draws more than just locals; tourists from as far as New York enjoy del Rey’s classes and tours. When they return home, she believes they take with them a new appreciation for the farmers and food specialties in their own regions. “In these farm classes, there’s an intimacy with the farmer,” del Rey says. “You spend time with them, you see the work involved—the passion and commitment it takes. The guests feel that.”

This plays into del Rey’s mission to “convey a message without being preachy.” Once people have tasted a beet picked that morning, she says, it’s hard to go back to eating industrial produce shipped from miles away. “We talk about where the foods we’re cooking come from and why they taste so good—not just because you’re on vacation, though that helps,” she says. “Beets that were picked that morning taste better—they’re fresher, they’re alive, they’re vibrant.”

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