Ramping up Ramekins
DOUG MCFARLAND is getting comfortable in his new digs as executive chef and director of culinary development at Ramekins Culinary School, Event Center and Inn.
Under the guidance of owners Darius and Sarah Anderson, Ramekins Culinary School, Event Center and Inn is growing - fast. From a new executive chef to culinary camps to an offsite catering business to work with the Food Network, Ramekins is establishing itself as a major culinary presence in the Bay Area.
Doug McFarland is settling into life in the hectic event center. As the new executive chef and director of culinary development, his main job is executing menus for the myriad of special events that take place at Ramekins, from corporate conferences to weddings. It's a job that keeps him busy.
"We've got something every weekend, we're booked solid," he said.
A native of Washington State, McFarland has been living in Sonoma for several years. Prior to coming to Ramekins, he was a chef at El Dorado Kitchen for two years, where he worked under former executive chef Justin Everett. He said he was inspired to move to Ramekins for the opportunities the culinary school presented as well as the business' philosophy of food.
"My style is farm fresh, market driven food, pretty much exactly what they're doing here," he said, adding, "We have so many chefs from so many areas coming here to teach that I get to learn from."
McFarland said he is eager for Ramekins to continue to develop its garden. Currently, the center runs Fifth Street Farms on Fifth Street West, where fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown for use in Ramekins kitchen. McFarland said he'd like to see a quarter of the produce used at catered events come straight from the garden, which is overseen by Colby Eierman, who previously tended the gardens at COPIA.
Soon, Ramekins will be catering more than ever. The center has created an offsite catering business, done out of a renovated truck that can go anywhere gourmet food is needed. The center reached out to area wineries, including Cline Cellars, Ledson Family Winery and Sebastiani Winery, and is making plans to provide catering services at a wide variety of special events.
"We can actually do a cooking class with up to 200 guests on site," said Steve Sarna, assistant general manager of Ramkeins. "We have chefs from every type of background in every style of food. We're probably the only off-site caterers able to offer that diversity of cuisine."
Even the Food Network is taking closer note of what Ramekins is up to. While the network has worked with the culinary school before, hosting television segments and special events, it is developing plans to work closely with Ramekins on a more regular basis, Sarna said. Food Network recently replaced the school's teaching kitchen cameras, which allow students to see what the instructor is doing on large television screens, with state of the art high definition cameras.
"It makes it easier for them to just plug their equipment in when they're shooting in there," Sarna said.
For the summer, the center has launched its Ramekins Live concert series, which brings live musical performances most Thursdays. For $45, attendees get the show and a sampling from Ramekins kitchen, anything from crispy honey ham croquettes with mustard aioli to parmesan tomato tarts. There is a cash bar to quench music lovers' thirst. The next concert takes place July 7, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with the swinging sounds of Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums featuring Miss Carmen Getit.
"You can come down after work, relax with a cocktail or a glass of wine and listen to some good music," Sarna said. (The concert series) was a part of Darius and Sarah's efforts to be more community oriented."
Also new this summer, Ramkeins launched an intensive Culinary Camp for adults. It's like fantasy baseball camp, where attendees get to play with their favorite pros, but for foodies.
From dinners at the French Laundry to tours of organic farms, broken up by plenty of cooking classes, the intensive four-day camp is for serious food aficionados, who stay at the inn during the camp. One camp just wrapped up last week, but another is on the horizon for Oct. 17 to 21.
Ramekins is also offering a full range of cooking camps for kids this summer, orchestrated by Ramekins Chef Lisa Lavagetto, who teaches youngsters not only the technical side of cooking, but how to better appreciate food. There are two more camps set in July and one in August, each with a different focus and aimed at a different age group.
"It's about learning to share, learning to wait and be patient. It's also involves math skills, organizational skills and teamwork," Lavagetto said, adding her philosophy is "You don't have to eat everything, but you have to try it."
Sarna said the new developments at Ramekins are consumer driven. "The average American has become very food savvy. Our classes have to meet those expectations. We're taking our curriculum to a level that is more challenging," he said.
For more, visit www.ramekins.com or call 933-0450.