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

  • A Valentine's Day cooking demonstration and dinner in the wine caves at Bella Winery in Healdsburg features aphrodisiac ingredients.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Many hands make light work at a Relish applesauce session. Relish donates the goods from "community canning day" to the local food bank.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Apple cider with cinnamon sticks is a fall favorite at Relish.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • A volunteer peels apples.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Fresh bread from Healdsburg's Costeaux Bakery and Sonoma County cheese, fruits and herbs are esential to the Relish Culinary Center as its state-of-the-art DCS appliances.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Rubin-Mahon adds sugar to cooking apples.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Chef Christopher Greenwald leads a cooking demonstration in the vineyards at Stryker Sonoma Winery.
    Photography Courtesy Relish Culinary Adventures
  • The Relish Culinary kitchen is filled with a rainbow of preserved goodies including Damson plum and yellow peach jams, lemon curd, salsas, jellies, mushrooms and peppers.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • A mix of Gravenstein and other local apples are ready for an applesauce-making session.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • Participants in one of Relish's "cooking adventures" enjoy a perfect end-of-the-day meal at the beach on the Sonoma coast.
    Photography By Pendergast-McGee Photography
  • Relish owner Donna del Rey prepares Fuju persimmons delivered earlier in the day by a local farmer.
    Photography By Barbara Bourne
  • The Relish Culinary Center offers a number of "pantry essentials" such as high-quality olive oils, vinegars and a
    Photography By Barbara Bourne

“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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