A fortunate few diners experienced something spectacular at Spago last week: an 11-course tomato tasting menu. The meal ran the gamut from familiar (chilled tomato gazpacho) to utterly unexpected (cherry tomato sorbet with sweet basil), a seasonally driven extravaganza cooked up by Spago chefs Eric Klein and Brandon Deardon and guest chef Johnny Church.
For Church—who fashioned two dishes, lion fish ceviche with tomato confit and Piedmontese-style sirloin—the dinner was a perfect example of what’s happening next in his journeyman chef’s career. Church has cooked and helmed kitchens at some of the city’s best restaurants and most recently helped build MTO Café into a casual powerhouse. Now he’s joining forces with ingredient-sourcing wunderkind Brett Ottolenghi and Artisanal Foods. The specialty shop recently relocated to a larger spot on Pama Lane in the southeast Valley, and Church will be heading up its catering services, along with a new café.
“It was just the perfect opportunity to get together and do something great,” says Church, who’s always been focused on using the best ingredients when they’re in season.
At the eight-seat café, set to open in early September, Church will do lots of dishes utilizing the rare and interesting products available at Artisanal Foods, served during lunch hours and including a prix fixe menu. At a recent local farmers’ market demo, Church shaved zucchini and squash into spaghetti and sautéed the veggies with black garlic, Early Girl tomatoes, lemon zest and olive oil, “simple but vibrant,” he says. Expect more of the same.