Ventura County's Savory Signature
Small town roots lead to big flavors
Kai Krupa’s passion for cooking can be traced back to growing up in a Michigan small town surrounded by home cooks who shared a love of good food. She’s worked her way, as most cooks do, from the ground up.
“My first job in a restaurant, I basically did everything from being a busser to a dishwasher to everything else,” she says. “It was a neighborhood pizza joint.”
Though she earned a degree in advertising, she found her niche in restaurants, working as a line cook, sous chef and head chef in a number of establishments. As her responsibilities have grown, so has her commitment to fresh, sustainable and adventurous dining. While there were some local farm stands where she lived as a child and her family had a small garden, Krupa, 35, says her sensibility has evolved to include ingredients and techniques from around the world.
Her culinary career has taken her to the Bay Area, to Seattle and now to Ventura County.
Krupa and her partner, Alana King, moved about a year and a half ago to live and work on King and King Ranch, a family-owned citrus and avocado ranch in Fillmore founded in 1913.
“In Seattle, the food scene is so good and everything was available locally—we were eating from farmers’ markets and local farms and that part was kind of an easy transition when moving here—and there’s just so much potential here.”
The recipe she submitted to Edible Ojai & Ventura County was inspired in part by the acre of mandarins, blood oranges, limes and lemons that grow on the ranch, with some of the trees planted by Alana King’s grandfather in the 1940s. The fish, too, was something she definitely wanted to include, citing the availability of fresh catches from Wild Local Seafood Company at the Ventura Harbor.
She made sure both of her favorite cuisines, Mexican and Asian, found their way into the recipe.
“I pretty much am obsessed with Mexican food and there’s a ton of amazing Mexican food in Ventura County,” she says. “The fish and the slaw are almost a take on a deconstructed fish taco or a fish and chips sort of thing.”
For its Asian influence, Krupa created a dressing similar to a nuoc cham sauce, making the slaw as she went along, and managed to hit it out of the park on her first try.
An avid home brewer, someday she’d like to open a small, farm-to-table brewery with seasonal snacks, she says. Currently, Krupa is embarking on a new career as a chef and mentor at an alternative after-school program for high-school-age kids, while also working on the family farm.
“The bounty of Ventura County inspires me on a daily basis, from the produce grown on our avocado and citrus ranch to the fields of small crops and the abundance that the ocean provides. The diversity of the people involved in food production and the flavors they bring to the community are represented in this dish. We are lucky to live in a county that produces so much variety and so many bold and intriguing foods.”