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By Collin Breaux

On Friday nights at The Ecology Center, members of the local community have a chance to gather near the organization’s farm and break bread—sometimes literally.

The Ecology Center regularly hosts what is called Community Table, ongoing nighttime dinners where attendees can share a meal specially prepared by a guest chef. The idea behind the program is to both cultivate local harmony and offer people freshly harvested food.

Guests must purchase a ticket to attend a dinner.

Ongoing Friday night dinners at The Ecology Center are chances for people to mingle over freshly prepared meals. Photo: Courtesy of Todd Prodanovich

Community Table reflects The Ecology Center’s emphasis on seasonality and storytelling, since the ingredients used are seasonal and diners have a chance to talk to each other and the guest chef, said Jonathan Zaidman, director of impact and partnerships for The Ecology Center.

The chefs have come from Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego and even across the country and bring their “unique expression” to the meals, Zaidman said. Chefs for upcoming dinners include Daniel Villanueva and Brian Bornemann.

The chefs have enjoyed coming to The Ecology Center and sometimes see it as an opportunity to “play” and experiment with new ingredients, Zaidman said.

Freshly prepared tacos by a visiting chef are some of the meals that have been offered through a special Community Table dinner series at The Ecology Center. Photo: Courtesy of Todd Prodanovich

The meals are fixed courses, and guests are seated at outdoor tables. The dinners generally have a 60- to 70-person capacity limit.

“Every dinner we’ve had has been sold out pretty quickly,” Zaidman said. “Even before people come, there is a great deal of enthusiasm.”

A significant percentage of guests are repeat guests, according to Zaidman.

The night starts with a cocktail hour and storytelling from the chef, with the chef’s kitchen set up right in front of the audience. The chef then cooks live and can answer questions that guests have about the food and meals. Art, paired drinks and appetizers are part of the dinner experience.

One impetus for the series is to give people a chance to see where their food comes and who prepares it, Zaidman said.

Diners’ expectations are generally surpassed when they actually go through the experience, according to Zaidman.

“You can literally see the farm 50 feet away,” Zaidman said.

Visit theecologycenter.org for tickets and more information.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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