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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I have lived in San Diego, California since I was a child. Chino's, also known as The Vegetable Shop, has been here long before I moved from Seattle in the mid-70s. And I am a little ashamed to say that today was the first time I have been to this culinary mecca that is virtually in my own backyard.

Chino Farms is north of San Diego, in the wealth-concentrated suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. I'm not just talking about money - everything Chino's sells they grow. This unassuming, simple looking vegetable stand ten minutes east of the Pacific coast is rich in land that grows herbs, vegetables and fruits that have no sensory equal.

"The snozberries taste like snozberries" ... says Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. "Snozberry, who ever heard of a snozberry?" asks Veruca Salt. Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) answers her, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."

Chino's is the music maker of Southern California. And if they dream it, they will grow it. Chefs and foodies come from all around to taste, then purchase, produce like I saw the other day...wolfberries, purselan (which I have been growing for years unknowingly), Korean melon (crisp, fragant - what I thought of as the marriage of cantaloupe/watermelon), strawberries of two varieties (the strawberry I tasted with a long, skinny stem I am still convinced was a piece of botanical candy), raddichio wrapped around itself like a child holding a secret, white raspberries (I have now denounced all other raspberries), and bunches of herbs that could substitute for a bride's bouquet.

That's just to start. I was overwhlemed by the fact that all of this culinary goodness is grown on their land. Their corn field stands tall surrounded by polo fields and golf courses. The squash gardens and tomato vines reach happily skyward and promulgate unthreatened within some of California's most prized realty and coveted land. That is so...romantic.

I'm a third-generation Californian, I'm coastal to the core. Yet, sometimes I find pretentiousness in my home state that drives me out of it's most beautiful or celebrated places. But at Chino's, you don't have to be rich, you don't need to be a five-star chef, you just need to be hungry - and knowing your produce will help. Some things are perfect in their natural, most simple state - and at Chino's I felt this idealism acknowledged in the most delicious way.

Samantha Gianulis is an author, columnist and editor living in Southern California with her husband and their three children. To read more of her work, visit her at or

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