California's Prized Strawberry Purveyor
It's ramp season on the East Coast, but it's Harry’s Berries time to shine in Los Angeles.
In any other year, late spring would signal open season for pastry chefs to design dishes featuring the ephemeral Harry’s Berries. Diners from L.A. to New York would be rounding the bases past their main course, eyes widening while their server highlighted a very special dessert starring the primo strawberries from Oxnard, California.
Akin to the East Coast ramp, the elusive Harry’s Berries are short-lived. Often described as what a strawberry should taste and look like, Harry’s are sweet, small, juicy and ruby red. That's perhaps why come mid-spring, chefs go crazy over them and why it is an especially exciting feat to source the specialty produce now when ingredients are hard to come by.
“I love their quality, and I love to support local growers,” says Pastry & Baking Arts Lead Chef and Director of Education Herve Guillard.
Founded by the late Harry Iwamoto, more than 50 years ago, the farm is now run by Harry’s daughter, Molly, and her husband Rick. They grow two varieties of strawberry, Gaviota and Seascape, harvesting every five days to ensure each fruit has reached ultimate sweetness.
“They are well-balanced, sweet, tart and organic,” says Chef Herve.
The month of May traditionally brings a famed strawberry festival, drawing crowds to the farm's sleepy coastal California town, though this year, the festival was sadly canceled due to COVID-19. Fortunately, Harry’s Berries started sprouting up on Instagram as distribution channels opened up. Smaller Southern California grocers and farmers markets, such as Vintage Grocers, Grow Southbay, Santa Monica Farmers Market and Co+opportunity, began selling the berries within the last few weeks in Santa Monica and Culver City. While L.A. diners likely won’t be savoring these precious gems from restaurants this year, the strawberries are available for purchase with endless ways to be prepared in a home kitchen.
“I like to use these high-quality berries as close to their natural state as possible, so no cooking,” says Chef Herve. His chosen preparation: “tossed with a bit of sugar, a dash of vanilla extract and a dash of Cointreau to top a pavlova.” He suggests that dessert may also warrant a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Chef Herve recommends using the coveted fruit as the star in a fresh strawberry tart prepared with a sable crust and a thin layer of lemon curd. However, this way of consuming the berries is limited by adulteration.
“My favorite preparation is just whole, dipping them in a bowl of sweetened crème Fraiche with a bit of chopped mint,” Chef Herve concludes.
Though most often Harry’s strawberries land in sweet preparations, do not discount a savory application. Michelin-starred Chef Carlos Salgado, of Taco María in Costa Mesa, grills them for tinga and Chef Herve approves. “They can be great in a strawberry salsa to be served with a grilled fish like cod or even a pork chop with a smoky rub,” Chef Herve advises. “A surprising combo, but it works!”
Explore plant-based cooking in ICE's Health-Supportive Culinary Arts program.