SONOMA, Calif. They had all scrubbed in. Their prep work, finished.
There was nothing left but to take the time-honored pledge to the
profession. “Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” intoned
the instructor to the group of 19 fresh-faced students. “I will ...
from this day forward ... have nothing to do ... with people ...
who use green bell peppers.”
The Oath of the Green Pepper is a requirement in this classroom.
For the students gathered in this kitchen just off a leafy, shaded
stretch of Sonoma’s West Spain Street are on a four-day epicurean
adventure through Sonoma County that has been organized by Food
& Wine Trails.
Based in Sonoma and a division of HMS Travel, Food & Wine
Trails organizes tours from Tuscany to Tahiti that explore the
world and its cultures through food and wine.
It is nationally respected experts like the leader of the green
pepper oath in this case, John Ash, who was one of the first to put
Sonoma County on the map back in 1980 with his eponymous restaurant
that have made these tours a cult hit among those passionate about
“Developing a niche like this was necessary for survival in the
travel industry,” says Food & Wine Trails President Larry
Martin. “The baby boomers have done the beach trip. The days of
lounging around on a vacation are gone. Now it’s all Palm Pilots
and cell phones. The only thing that can compete is enrichment
travel. It’s multitasking people learn while they enjoy their
Though the overseas trips typically last eight to 12 days, the
Sonoma County tour is only four. But just like the other tours,
there is barely time to breathe.
Throughout the four days and nights, the travelers, who hail
from points as distant as Texas and Florida, will enjoy a private
tour of the Davis Bynum Winery and a Thai cooking class.
They’ll rise at the crack of dawn to see the backstage workings
of the Della Fattoria Bakery. They’ll sidestep droppings at a sheep
farm as they make their way to a rusty shack to make homemade
And no less than Kathleen Stewart, formerly of Chez Panisse,
will teach a private lesson on how to make apple galettes at
Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery.
At Bellwether Farms, in Valley Ford, Calif., Cindy Callahan and
her son, Liam, tromp around in rubber boots as they make creme
fraiche, ricotta, crescenza and carmody cheeses by hand in small
Food & Wine Trails shines the spotlight on family farms,
artisanal products and the practice of sustainable agriculture. In
essence, they are tours that define the slow food movement, which
stresses the importance of taste, preparation and presentation of
food and drink, and the importance of the source and quality of
ingredients used in food preparation.
Back at John Ash’s cooking class is the sustaining of the rant
of the ills of the green bell beast. “Green bell peppers are one of
the most disgusting foods in the universe!” Ash screeches. Then,
pulling a different green pepper from a bowl, he cradles it in both
hands and lifts it to the heavens.
“Now repeat after me,” he says. “Poblano peppers ... ”