To put it simply, Tyler Malek has our dream job. As Head Ice Cream Maker at renowned west coast ice cream shop, Salt & Straw, Tyler scours local food markets and farms to curate unique flavors that are reflective of the shop’s native Portland food scene, as well as Salt & Straw’s new home in Los Angeles. Tyler, who was named to Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 List for his ice cream innovations, has joined the Jetsetter Series to tell us more about a recent sourcing trip in Central California.
Travelling for me means constantly looking for new people, ingredients, and stories that I can bring back to our ice cream kitchen. No matter where I’m going, my route is calculated in a way that puts me in contact with as many interesting people as possible. At Salt & Straw, we recently opened a kitchen in Los Angeles, our first outpost outside of Portland, Oregon! The lead up to the opening was a whirlwind of trips all around Southern California and the Central Coast looking for points of inspiration for a menu that would be indicative of the local food scene.
The bounty that California has to offer is truly mind blowing for this small-town Pacific Northwestern boy. Walking through the Santa Monica farmers market to find fresh cherimoyas, taking road trips to Oxnard to find fields upon field of fresh strawberries, staying weekends in Santa Barbara to taste through small-batch chocolates and coffees, and brewery hopping in San Diego; I’ve spent the past two years working my way through the food scene trying to find ways to use our ice cream as a canvas to show Los Angeles how truly amazing their food is. Out of all of my trips around California, one of my favorites has been travelling through the Santa Ynez Valley.
So there’s this guy, Jose, right? Jose and his family have been managing this walnut grove in the Santa Ynez Valley for nearly one-hundred fifty years. I met him at the Hollywood farmers market and, after tasting the La Nogalera Walnut Oil, I invited myself to his orchard just outside Buellton, California.
First there’s the drive: arm hanging out the window, cool-kid-sunglasses shading my eyes, soaking in the stark differences of a valley that’s just thirty minutes north of concrete-laden L.A. The Santa Ynez Valley and neighboring Ojai Valley are almost solely known for their olives and grapes. Wine and Olive Oil; let’s face it, in most cases that’s all you need in life. That being said, this foggy, cool, fertile, and sporadically super sunny region of California also creates the perfect environment for plenty more than just wine and EVOO. Jose’s farm, Rancho La Viña, dates back to when the Spanish colonies initially started setting up along California, planting olive and walnut trees all up and down the coast.
Rancho la Viña itself is absolutely awe-inspiring. The crunching of gravel under my car’s tires set the perfect ambiance to eerily immaculate rows of walnut trees. Jose and I walked around the orchard, him casually pointing to each tree telling me how old it was, most of them being much, much older than myself.
After walking through over a century of California history and plucking raw walnuts from low hanging branches, we strolled down the hill to the greenhouses. Now, let me point out that this trip was in January, a notably miserable time in Portland when slush rains from the heavens like someone broke the switch to turn it off. Jose’s greenhouse was an oasis from my winter rain. The greenhouse was stacked with beautiful baby tomato plants. A dreamland of sweet, delicate, red veggie-fruits. An astonishing neighbor to such old walnut trees and an additional ingredient for my vast notebook of Californian ice cream inspirations.
This road trip to Santa Ynez was a definite success. A casual invite to see a few walnut trees helped mold an entirely new vision of what flavors are possible from California’s Central Coast. For me, coming from the Pacific Northwest where beauty is smack in your face and the produce is heavily seasonal and relatively predictable, it’s fun to know that there are still quite a few food treasures to be discovered just an hour from my new L.A. home.