The Ecology Center Kicks Off Its Inaugural, Seasonal Dinner Series


The Ecology Center—a 28-acre certified regenerative farm, farm stand, and community hub for sustainability education, stewardship, and cultural change—announces its new seasonal chef in residence program. James Beard Foundation Award-winning Chef Tim Byres kicks off the series this summer, where he will live on-site at The Ecology Center for four months in a 24’ Airstream situated in the middle of the farmland. Chef Byres, alongside The Ecology Center Founder and Executive Director Evan Marks, have conceptualized HEARTH, an interactive live-fire dinner series designed to delight and immerse guests into a discussion—through food, music, art, and experiences—on the San Juan Creek bioregion (Acjachemen land) and the connection between soil health and cultural wealth. Ticket sales support The Ecology Center’s mission to give back 20% of what it grows to feed local food-insecure community members, with the goal of nourishing 750 families per week.

HEARTH dinners will be open to 40 guests per evening from 4:30-8:30 p.m. timed with dusk and sunset. Act 1 will run July 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31 and Act 2 on August 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28, and each will incorporate different artisans, makers, musicians, and more. Tickets are $200 per guest—inclusive of dinner, wine and cocktail pairings, tax, and gratuity—and available to purchase here starting Friday, June 18. The menu will mirror the farm’s four crop rotations, with dishes organized into the categories of Milpa, Market Garden, Cover Crop, and Fruit Forests, and composed with ingredients that the farm and region have to offer that specific day.

Upon arrival, guests will be greeted with cocktails, bites, and a welcome intention ceremony at the “Earthen Brick Workshop” to take part in making a pressed-clay brick—the same that Chef Byres and Marks will use to construct the hearth in advance of and throughout the residency, as the series evolves. A farm tour will follow, incorporating engagement with technology used on the farm, from the philosophy and thoughtfulness behind seed breeding and planting, to physical tools like tractors and tillers. Guests will then be led to an intimate outdoor courtyard for dinner adjacent to the hearth, with Chef Byres, Marks, and artisans from the farm—like weavers, beeswax candlemakers, and potters—discussing elements utilized in the experience, the overall intentionality at The Ecology Center, and thought-provoking discourse on soil health, regenerative farming, deep stewardship, and sustainable food culture.

HEARTH represents the culinary residency in action for Chef Byres, who will be moving into the Airstream on the farm mid-June and collaborating with Marks and the team on physically building the hearth and dining space. During his first few weeks, he will also be acclimating and immersing himself into the bioregion, farm rhythms, and seeking guidance and education on the cultural traditions of the Acjacheman land. A California native, Chef Byres comes to The Ecology Center by way of Dallas, TX and brings an expertise in live-fire cooking, the subject of his James Beard Foundation Award-winning cookbook SMOKE.

“The Hearth program is intended as an odyssey into the history, culture, and spirit of the San Juan Creek bioregion, with the ultimate goal of shifting our collective consciousness around food. Each week’s extensive R&D into the native foodways of this bioregion will be used to workshop recipes, experiment with traditional tools and primitive cooking techniques, and develop fresh modes of expression for the unique spirit that inhabits this land,” says Byres. “Biweekly community dinners will serve as chapters in the unfolding narrative of realigning the modern cultural relationship to food and ecology. At the close of the four-month residency, this narrative, along with the processes and preparations that were developed along the way, will be documented in a cookbook slated for national release.”

In the grander scope, Chef Byres’ presence and involvement on the farm adds another level to the work done every day at The Ecology Center to engage and inspire cultural shifts through food, education, and community outreach. HEARTH brings the farm’s ethos to life in a tangible, interactive way that is aligned with Marks’ vision for continued growth and positive change.

“Tim was an obvious choice for our first culinary residency. We are longtime admirers of his work and his award-winning book SMOKE, and it feels aligned to the culinary ethos not only of our organization, but also of this bioregion,” says Marks. “It was a natural fit for us to explore what the future looks like for us as an organization, Tim as a chef, and our community collectively.”

The name HEARTH pays homage to the central gathering place for cultures around the world. Breaking the word itself apart yields even more of the elements that are fundamental to the human community: earth, heart, art. “HEARTH also references the actual fulcrum of this residency: a hand-built earthen oven designed in the tradition of the early indigenous people as well as the early European settlers,” says Marks. “It is a culinary expression of the bioregional ‘voice’ of the farm’s past, present, and future–a place to gather around the fire, as humans have always done, in celebration of soil health and cultural wealth.”

The Ecology Center is located in San Juan Capistrano at 32701 Alipaz St. The Farm Stand is open every day, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. with seasonal programming scheduled throughout the year and detailed on the website. Additional details and tickets for HEARTH can be found here. Future seasonal chef residencies will explore additional elements of the bioregion, in new and unique ways, building upon the space Marks has created for ideas, educational opportunities, and cultural enrichment.

About Chef Tim Byres
Tim Byres is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef as well as a consultant, entrepreneur, author, educator, gardener, and outdoorsman. The early years of Tim’s career were marked by major recognitions, from People’s Choice Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine to supporting the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic missions as part of the American Chefs Corps. He became an established name in the international food scene thanks to his groundbreaking Dallas restaurant SMOKE. With the 2014 publication of his first book, Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, Tim established himself as an expert in “Live Fire Cooking,” a unique style of entertaining that highlights the bold flavors found within the landscapes of American Southwest. Tim made a bold pivot by walking away from the fame-driven treadmill of the mainstream culinary scene and returning the roots of his culinary education. Drawing on his experiences hunting, fishing, foraging and farming across the American southwest, as well as the traditions of heritage kitchens from Europe to the Deep South, Tim set out to reinvent firewood cooking as the foundation for a unique culinary style that marries modern sophistication with stripped-down authenticity. Today, he is a sought-after creative consultant who specializes in unearthing the “food voice” from bioregions around the country. His creative use of seasonality, geography, cultural heritage and primitive technology expands the boundaries of fine cuisine by paying conscious homage to the earth and to the traditions that honor it. His passion for making memories and touching emotions through experiential dining is a natural fit with The Ecology Center’s emphasis on driving meaningful change through shared abundance and community collaboration.

The product and process of Chef Tim Byres’ culinary residency at The Ecology Center integrates one-of-a-kind experiences, focusing on recentering and turning attention to bioregional ingredients, traditional tools, live-hearth cooking, and fostered dialogue. Guests will partake in and enjoy experiences like brickmaking, music, art, and conversation, all tied back to immersive dining paired with an elevated menu from Chef Byres. Guests will weave through the property over the course of the evening, with different happenings taking place throughout the space, all under the open sky. Programming like HEARTH supports The Ecology Center’s driving mission to bring the whole community along with change towards an abundant future. Additional information for HEARTH can be found here.

About The Ecology Center
Cradled by the coast on one side and the chaparral on the other, The Ecology Center is a 28-acre certified regenerative organic farm (one of the few left in the county) and community hub. Over the course of twelve years, and with a village of staff and volunteers, Founder and Executive Director Evan Marks transitioned The Ecology Center from a one-acre plot into its current 28-acres and a thriving marketplace for regeneratively organic grown flowers, vegetables, fruit, and plants. Year-round, Southern California visitors can enjoy ecological experiences at The Ecology Center, from field trips to culinary adventures, a robust farm stand, and a CSA program now serving the greater region. Through its Nourishing Neighbors initiative, The Ecology Center gives back 20% of what it grows to feed local food-insecure community members, with the goal of nourishing 750 families per week. Additional information and updates can be found on The Ecology Center’s website and on Instagram.

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