Passionate chef Anne Bunch dedicated to healthy ingredients

By Robbie Kaye

It doesn’t take long to realize that Anne Bunch is committed to her mission, infusing healthy and nutritious food into unique recipes that delight your palate.  Her colorful creations are made with passion, love and experience.

If you’ve ever eaten anything from the deli at New Frontiers, you will know what I mean when I say there is no shortage of freshness and surprise in every dish.

Anne is under contract as the chef at New Frontiers, so everything she creates there, stays there. Understandably. But in this issue, she does give us a recipe to celebrate spring.

Anne started her cooking career at 29.  She was a prep cook, breakfast cook and a line cook while working her way up into becoming a chef, which involves more than just cooking and baking. Originally from Belgium, she moved from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1981.

LOV: Did you go to school to learn to be a chef?

I grew up in the kitchens of my parents’ hotel-resort and picked up a lot of techniques and learned how things should be prepared and taste. We served mostly French-Belgian dishes, all made from scratch. To get true tastes, one must always make food from real ingredients, and I am passionate about that.

LOV: What is your favorite thing to cook or bake?

I love both … but I am becoming quite crazy in love about baking. Baking lends itself to artistry.

LOV: Where do you get your passion? What inspires you to create what you create?

It is an outpouring and expression of love … I think of a loved one and an emotion rises up and from there I translate it into a recipe, along with reading tons of cooking blogs, websites and magazines to keep up with the cooking trends in helping me create. Another muse is music … so combine these three things and I am in a creative space.

LOV: Are you planning on writing another book?  If so, can you give us a hint about what it’s about and how someone can get it?

I am at the moment in the midst of writing a cookbook for Veggie Rescue as a fundraiser. There is no release date set, as funds for publishing need to be raised … then it will be available in local bookstores and hopefully in a much broader market.

LOV: Where did you meet your long-time friends here, and what do you do to connect?

My very dear long-time friends I met when our children attended school. We all lived in Los Olivos, which was a small wonderful community then. Now our children are grown and some friends have moved away but we keep in touch in various ways … a dinner … a walk … Facebook visits or a day at the beach and so on.

LOV: In the time you’ve been here in the valley, have you seen a transformation, a change take place, in the food culture here?

Oh yes. Hugely. When I moved to LO there was Mattei’s, which was then a Charthouse, and the Grand Hotel with a fabulous restaurant. The chef was Linny and her food was fresh and clean and super good. The pastry chef was Linda Townsend, who inspired me to branch out into desserts.

Sidestreet Café was then owned by Lou Netzer, a local and very loved family doctor, and that is where I brought the kind of cooking like I do to New Frontiers, which was very novel and modern at the time and we were packed all the time. Over the years more little café-style restaurants opened, wineries with tasting rooms, shops, et cetera. LO is now a place where tourists come from all over.

LOV: In the time you’ve been a chef here, have you seen an increase in people buying local produce vs. imported? Can you tell us about the benefits of doing that?

Definitely. I could write a paper on this — ha ha ha! As the awareness is growing through documentaries, health-oriented websites, Dr. Oz and so many other health practitioners who inform you on the benefits of eating produce fresh from the farmer’s markets where it is mostly organic, if not pesticide free. New Frontiers, in the deli, where I am chef, is seriously dedicated to bring to the consumer products that are free of cancer-causing chemicals of any sort and keep you in good health. Most of the produce used is from our own certified organic farm. It is also available in the produce department.

Now, local is a very controversial term as it can mean a 30-mile range up to the entire state or even out of state, in some cases. At New Frontiers, it means in the 805 area code. For some reason it is perceived that eating local and seasonal is more expensive, but in truth it really isn’t. Farmer’s markets or your local natural food store have very competitive prices, and even if it is slightly higher, you will save on your health care later in your years.

LOV: If someone were interested in learning how to cook and eat more healthfully, where would you direct him or her to learn?

Today there is a huge movement on the web (YouTube, for instance) where you can access documentaries, cooking classes, lectures, health magazines and naturopaths who have personal sites or blogs informing you on the benefits of eating fresh, organic, local foods. New Frontiers regularly offers lectures on eating healthfully.

It begins with education I believe, so that an understanding of why eating local and seasonal is so important.

The best to way to start, in my mind, is get a list off of the internet, which are the vegetables highest in pesticides and/or GMO and start switching those out to organic … then move on from there … I believe you will notice how much better it tastes and the nutritional benefits will pay off.

LOV: Do you think the valley has enough venues for healthy eating?

Many restaurants offer delicious freshly made foods. Healthy eating is not only eating local and organic. Other factors play a role like portions, fat content, et cetera. I think that if you are going to eat in a restaurant occasionally, enjoy it! Life is about balance, but if you are eating out all the time then select the ones in the Valley that serve up meals with vegetables and lean proteins — there are quite a few!

LOV: If you could open any kind of restaurant, what kind would it be?

I have a specific style and brand of cooking that has made a lot of people happy. I would wish to continue but instead of it being in deli form, the food would be cooked to order and plated for you, and the restaurant would be easy going, relaxed with great music and a friendly atmosphere. It would be a place to decompress your mind and at the same time nourish your body healthily.

LOV: After a busy day of work, where do you go, what do you do to unwind and relax?

Some evenings I go to swim, others I go home and enjoy some wine and play with my cat, Facebook, read, watch a movie. In spring and summer I will start my vegetable garden. The beach is my soul place. I enjoy solitude after a busy day, whether physically or mentally.

LOV: What did you have to overcome to be successful at what you do?

Long, long hours in hot kitchens, putting up with mean teachers (chefs), and not being afraid of displeasing.

LOV: What is your advice to women who have dreams but are afraid to go for it?

Fear is deadly. If your vision is clear and you have the stamina, go for it! The journey to success is never without bumps, but overcoming them is what brings you closer to your vision. Keep your vision in front of you at all times and keep going. Surround yourself with anything that might further you.

LOV: If someone wants to contact you to commission a cake, what is the best way?

I have let go of taking personal orders at home. So I recommend ordering your cake or dessert through New Frontiers. There is a 48-hours notice (because we make everything from scratch it takes longer for some items). The recipes I have created, and the bakers are amazing at executing them.

LOV: What can you tell us about Veggie Rescue?

I would also like to give Veggie Rescue a shout-out. They have brought fresh, local, seasonal produce to the schools, senior centers and food banks. All the produce is donated to Veggie Rescue through their gleaning program ranging from farms, back yards to the farmer’s market. That is community service at its best!

(To learn more about Veggie Rescue, go to http://www.veggierescue.org.)

Robbie Kaye of Santa Ynez is an international photographer as well as a designer and author. Her website is www.robbiekaye.com.