Thursday, December 3, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 40
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Solvang's newest restaurant opened during the pandemic and is serving up locally sourced deliciousness to-go or for the patio

CAMILLIA LANHAM

The first time in three years that chef Michael Cherney saw someone eat the food he prepared was on the patio of his new restaurant in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Order up
Solvang’s new restaurant, peasants FEAST at 487 Atterdag Road, is taking online orders Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Check out the menu by visiting peasantsfeast.com. Find them on Facebook for up-to-date information about dine-in services.

THOM’S VEGGIE STACK
Chef Michael Cherney’s vegetarian sandwich is a whopper with cucumber, red onion, sunflower sprouts, mozzarella, avocado, and roasted garlic aioli on Bob’s Well Bread pain de mie.
PHOTO BY RODOLFO NAVARRO, COURTESY OF ANNA FERGUSON-SPARKS

“They were eating a grilled cheese sandwich, and they were pulling it apart and the cheese was all gooey,” Cherney said. “I’ll never forget that. That image is burned into my head.”

Although he and his wife, Sarah Cherney, are restaurant veterans, their most recent jobs were for more corporate-style restaurants, so Cherney said they didn’t really get to interact with customers. The experience wasn’t personal enough for them, so they decided it was time to venture out on their own with their new spot in Solvang, peasants FEAST

“We didn’t have that connection with customers. We were just soldiers,” he said. 

Serving customers and seeing the smile on their faces as they dig into the food he makes is what puts a smile on Cherney’s face. Seeing other people happy makes the Cherneys happy, he said. It’s a personal, communal interaction, something to be celebrated.

“And that’s what we want this restaurant to be. A celebration,” he said. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with the opening of the new restaurant, things have gone a little differently than they originally thought. But, Cherney said, everything seems to work out for them in the end, and he’s confident that this won’t be any different.


SIDE OF MAC
The to-go food that chef Michael Cherney offers at his restaurant in Solvang, peasants FEAST, consists of soups, salads, and sandwiches due to the pandemic, but he still serves up a heaping helping of mac and cheese as a side dish.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA FERGUSON-SPARKS

It gives them a chance to ease into things slowly and test the waters a little bit, he said. The response has been keeping both him and his wife busy. He said they’ve been putting in 14-hour days, six days a week, since they opened in April, and they almost have more to-go orders than they can keep up with. It’s a good problem to have, he said. 

Right now, peasants FEAST is serving a core menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and some sides, because that’s the kind of food that works best in to-go containers. In the future, Cherney said, he’s hoping to offer up a seasonal menu of what he calls “new American comfort food.” And the specials will be where it’s at. 

For instance, the restaurant recently purchased a whole lamb and turned it into specials. Cherney said he made lamb barbacoa tacos with the leg meat; rubbed the spareribs, smoked them, and paired it with Texas toast, cole slaw, and potato salad; served the racks with gnocchi and spring onions; and cooked up a lamb bolognese with fresh fettuccini. 

He worked up a mushroom burger in June made from Brandon’s Gourmet Mushrooms in Orcutt and cheese from the Stepladder Creamery in Cambria. It was over the top, he said. And several customers asked him to put it on the more permanent menu. 

Getting the chance to work with with local farmers such as those who run Stepladder and Brandon’s Mushrooms give Cherney the opportunity to have an intimate understanding of the produce and meat he purchases. It’s important to him, Cherney said, because that leads to connection with the food we eat and an appreciation for those who used their time and energy to grow it. 


NEW DIGS
Chef Michael Cherney and his wife, restaurant veteran Sarah Cherney, opened peasants FEAST in Solvang this spring.
PHOTO BY LINDA CHAJA PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY OF ANNA FERGUSON-SPARKS

He requires the chefs who work for him to put time in on local farms. Recently, he said, a couple of his employees went and harvested some rabbits and duck eggs. 

“There’s a story for almost every single dish, and that goes back into where that product came from and how it got to your plate,” he said. “We’re not just here to feed people.”

The flavors coming out of local, small farms are bright, vegetal, and intense. Plus there’s less waste and less of a carbon footprint. With the restaurant, he said, they can take surplus produce from local farmers—such as the oddly shaped carrots that farmers can’t always sell at markets and produce stands—and puree it into a vegetable puree with some garlic, butter, and possibly cream for soup. 

“If I could source all of these ingredients locally, and they’re all great, it makes my job easier,” Cherney said. “If you’re getting carrots that are mass-produced, there’s no flavor, there’s no story.”

His desire for a connection with the food that he cooks with stems from some time Cherney spent as a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) after working at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (a Michelen star chef) in the Las Vegas MGM Grand for three years. 

After spending some time abroad, Cherney moved to North Fork, California, where he worked at the Kern Family Farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

“An that’s where it all kind of clicked for me,” he said. “They weren’t rich in money, but they were rich in family and culture.” 


SOLVANG HOT CHICKEN
Buttermilk fried chicken, pickled red onion, fresh herbs, shredded cabbage, and Nannie’s ranch on a sesame brioche bun. Yum!
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA FERGUSON-SPARKS

One day, they were thinning carrots, pulling little carrots out of the ground so the ones around it could grow into the space it left behind. The Kern Family Farm thought of those little carrots as thinners that they wouldn’t be able to sell. But when Cherney looked at it, he thought of the little carrots they used to purchase at the L’Atelier in Vegas. He told them that fine dining chefs would pay good money for little carrots like that. 

Eventually, Cherney made his way into Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos, where he worked for several years and met his wife. He said it was exactly where he wanted to be. A restaurant in wine country where he could work with local farms. 

Now, the Cherneys have their own spot and are excited to make things work. The building is a greenhouse that was built in the 1970s before it was converted into a restaurant with a kitchen. With panel glass almost all the way down to the floor and a patio that wraps almost all the way around the restaurant, you can see anyone and everyone from anywhere in the restaurant. 

Although, peasants FEAST isn’t open for dine-in services yet, the patio is open for diners who would like to make an online food order and eat it out in the open air. Cherney said they are just waiting for the first phase of reopenings to see what happens. 

“As bad as it is, for some reason the timing has worked out for us,” Cherney said. “It’s slow and steady for us. We have enough to pay our employees and pay the rent.” 

Editor Camillia Lanham suddenly has a hankering for some carrot soup. Send food tips to clanham@santamariasun.com










Weekly Poll
Would a second stay-at-home order be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19?

No, pandemic fatigue is too high to get people to follow a stay-at-home order.
Yes, we need it, otherwise our hospitals will be in rough shape.
Local governments should get a say—not all purple tier counties are the same.
It would be bad news for the economy.

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