Running Through his Day
Danny Everett has enough engaging stories to account for dozens of multifarious lifetimes: He’s an Olympic medalist in track, grew up in a small Texas town and Los Angeles and is a coach, chef and family man. The Ojai resident says he’s also working towards sustainability on his land, and in his wildest dreams would produce media to show others how to do the same.
Everett, owner of SoulFête, a private chef and catering business based in Ojai, is showing me around his 10-acre property, complete with chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigs. Three pigs were part of his kids’ 4-H program; the fourth was recently sent to “the spa.”
Everett, now 51, discovered Ojai with his wife of 21 years, Tiarzha Taylor, in the late 1980s through a friend at The Thacher School. “Ojai fit into our already natural appreciation for small towns and nature,” he says. The exposure of different walks of life and community gatherings provide his children—Karys, 14; Cole, 12; and Ava, 10—an eclectic childhood experiences, he adds. “We hope growing up this way will help inform and expand their perspective as adults and the lifestyle they lead as a family.”
“Danny and Tiarzha are just lovely and amazing human beings,” Bruce Chernof of Ojai Alisal Vineyard says of the couple he met at a farm-to-table fundraiser years ago. Since then, the whole family has participated in pruning or harvesting at the vineyard year after year.
The kids have even earned their own row of grapes with their names on it. “We think it is incredibly important for young people to feel an attachment to the land, and having our youngest volunteers have their names on specific grapes helps create this sense of accountability and stewardship,” Chernof explains.
Long before he had children, Everett competed as a world-class athlete at UCLA. He saw parts of the world and talked to people who gave him a new perspective, he says.
“It’s so benign and simple, but you just start realizing that there are so many other ways to do things,” he says, mentioning details like the amount of ice Americans typically use in drinks and how some European markets hang meat outdoors. “My love of cooking expanded through travel. I ate a lot of different meals with spices and ingredients I never would have considered.”
Everett’s interest in cooking sprang from watching his Texan parents and grandmother prepare “straight Southern” meals for his family as a child. “We didn’t have the luxury of not liking what was put in front of us,” he says. Everett was especially inspired by his grandmother’s approach in the kitchen: Ratios were measured using only her hands, even when baking; the results were consistently delicious. “What really hooked me in was it was all made from scratch.”
Julia Child provided further inspiration “because of her voice and how unapologetic she was about the use of butter.” So did Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, whose style resonates with Everett’s taste for experimentation and risk-taking.
After training at the Los Angeles Culinary Institute, Everett started catering in the late 1990s and in 2014 launched SoulFête. Over the years, he developed his signature style of cooking, which always involves something smoky, spicy and sweet.
The key to cooking for clients and at home, he says, is using familiar ingredients but preparing them in a different way and to give food more flavor. He describes the results as being “from scratch with a Southern sensibility, plus the infusion of other cultures.”
Everett’s jobs as a private chef come primarily through word of mouth. His services range from baking cakes to creating menus for impromptu dinner parties to oak-smoking meats in a trailer he keeps near his kitchen.
All this between keeping up his property, being a coach and president of the Ojai Roadrunners Youth Track and Field Club where his kids compete, and creating menus and video content for DeskYogi.com.
Everett still runs or plays tennis at least three times a week throughout the year. “I think I would have been a tennis star if I had discovered the sport sooner,” Everett says with a laugh.
“I don’t know why we do this to ourselves,” Taylor, his wife, says about their many activities and volunteer positions. “We always have our hands and feet in several things. It’s like [the game] Twister.”
On the morning I photographed the family and their property, Everett insisted on altering his family’s breakfast plans just for me, making his chicken and waffles gluten-free. (They were delicious, by the way.)
While the kids helped season the chicken and mix batter, everyone gently poked at each other’s inability in the kitchen. “Danny does all of the cooking for the family since he’s such a great cook, and encourages the kids to cook with him,” says Taylor, who describes herself as his “muse.”
When Everett was an Olympian, there was little guidance from coaches on nutrition for athletes, he says. Luckily, he naturally gravitated toward a healthy diet. These days, he puts a premium on rightsize portions, which helps prevent overeating and reduce food waste. He’s moving toward serving smaller pieces of protein that wind up feeling more like a side and uses an abundance of vegetables to round out a meal.
“Be conscious of what a meal is for: Today only? Tomorrow as well? Think ahead of time about how what is leftover can be repurposed,” Everett suggests, adding that everything from soups to risottos are ways to turn dishes into additional meals.
Everett hopes to eventually produce enough in his raised-bed garden to share with clients. For now, his kids appreciate the freshness of homegrown vegetables, something he hopes to continue to instill in them, along with honoring the work farmers—those who grow vegetables and raise animals—do every day.
Since his oldest, Karys, was in first grade, Everett has visited each of his children’s elementary classrooms each year as they design a feast of the students’ choice. The students then execute the meal 100% under Everett’s supervision.
Now that his kids are older, he only went to Ava’s class at San Antonio Elementary School this October. The students chose to make pan-seared salmon, orange chicken, shrimp cocktail, miso and chicken noodle soup, macaroni and cheese, zucchini pasta with pesto sauce, two types of fries and coffee cake.
“The opportunity to volunteer at the kids’ school and create elaborate menus brings such joy to him because the kids enjoy it so much,” Taylor says.
Cooking with kids is real. But when it comes to TV cooking shows, “There’s very little out there from the farm to the table. People haven’t embraced what it really means.”
Beyond gaining an appreciation for the time and energy it takes to tend to a garden or animal that has allowed a great meal to sit in front of you, Everett says his concern for the shrinking amount of land available to feed the world’s ever-growing population motivates his desire to help others discover self-sustaining practices.
Whether you’re in an apartment with a balcony or a modest home with a small yard, Everett says the ability to self-sustain is an invaluable skill he’ll continue to pursue and hopes someday to share with the world on a social media platform.