If there is a ground zero for the emergence of a good culinary scene in the Temecula Valley, it’s thanks to innovative chef Leah di Bernardo and her E.A.T. Marketplace in Old Town Temecula.
Coming from New York and settling in California, di Bernardo is in the forefront of the slow food movement having worked side by side with icons like Alice Waters. Her menu and ingredients stem from understanding the food system, how that affects our bodies and her responsibility as a chef to see that we aren’t eating products doused with chemicals and are hormone- and antibiotic-free.
“Food can ruin us if we’re not careful,” di Bernardo tells L.A. Weekly over a cup of custom-blended coffee in her E.A.T. Marketplace (which stands for Extraordinary Artisan Table.). “Having started out as a documentary filmmaker in New York I’ve always been interested in the stories of things — like food. I wanted to really understand the food system and where our foods are coming from and how they affect our bodies. To understand that I schooled myself into becoming a chef.”
A family visit brought her to the wine region while she was pregnant with her daughter and she became intrigued with all the farms and agriculture popping up in the valley. Local farms like Sage Mountain and Cook’s pigs had just started and she became smitten with the small wineries and the heartfelt care and passion that went into the vines. Di Bernardo felt she wanted to be part of this collective of people and tell their stories through her food.
“I was pregnant the time with my daughter Gabrielle and figured I should just stay in New York, but there was something that kept pulling me back here,” di Bernardo says. “ I still go to Napa and Sonoma and love that culture. But you come here, and the winemakers will come out and sit with you, the chefs come out share a glass of wine. It’s that nonstop conviviality of everybody working together and the transparency and honesty that is the glue that keeps me here. Our hearts are intertwined with our food.”
The single mom is surrounded by young passionate chefs in the marketplace, and while she still loves the culture and art form of fine food, she wants food to be attainable for every wallet.
“I’m so honored to be able to work with so many talented young women,” she says. ” I love watching them grow.”
Di Bernardosources her produce from the local Sage Farms and the three weekly farmers markets in Temecula. The baked goods are made in house — glazed scones made with fresh peaches and blueberries and vegan donuts that are baked, not fried, are phenomenal. The perfect spot for breakfast, try the smoked Alaska wild salmon toast or the mighty house granola bowl with seeds, nuts, Greek or coconut yogurt and fruit. Definitely get the avocado toast, made from fruit sourced from singer Jason Mraz’s nearby avocado ranch.
E.A.T Marketplace, 28410 Old Town Front St., Temecula; (951) 694-3663, eatmarketplace.com.